Current Jewish NBA Players

Omri Casspi
In terms of Jewish NBA players, the list is pretty thin. In fact, there seems to be only two active NBA players who are Jewish, and that is Omri Casspi and Jordan Farmar.

The immediate question is: Why so few Jews in the NBA in 2018-2019?

Why is there such a dearth of current Jewish NBA players, especially considering that there are at least 10 Jews currently playing in the MLB.

I suppose the reason is due to the large enclaves of Jews in inner cities who mostly embraced baseball while growing up. Stickball or baseball dominated inner cities like New York City, (all of 5 boroughs), Chicago, and a few others. 

As for basketball, well, the funny but unfortunate truth is that Jews were never known for being physically imposing (Kevin Youkilis and Bill Goldberg are the execptions), hence the lack of famous or well know basketball Jewish players. Jews are known less for brawn and more for smarts. Hence, the dearth of Jews in the NBA and NFL. Though the early days of the NBA had plenty of Jewish stars, notably Dolph Schayes. Nowadays, however, there seems to exist more of a pipeline from Israel (the lack of physicality doesn't exist as much with Israel as it does with Jews) in general, with Casspi being a shining example.

Omri Casspi

Casspi, who is both Israeli and Jewish, was surprisingly drafted early with the 23rd overall in the 2009 NBA draft by the hapless Sacramento Kings. Though other Israelis had indeed been drafted in the past, Casspi was the first to crack the 1st round, and was actually expected to contribute, and ended up being the first Israeli to play in the NBA. 

Casspi was then traded in 2011 to the Cavs. He then signed with the Rockets in 2013, then traded to the Pelicans in 2014, then waived. Unsurprisingly, Casspi came back home to the Kings (or perhaps it was surprising, since Casspi seems to be the only NBA player to enjoy playing for the pathetic Sacramento Kings), and he re-upped with them in 2014. 

In terms of effectiveness, Casspi has definitely made strides as a rotation player. This past season he put up 11 ppg with 40% from 3. With today's NBA gravitating toward 3 and D guys who can run, Casspi has suddenly become valuable. Check out his career stats:

Per Game
09-10 Sac 77 25.1 10.3 4.5 1.2 0.7 0.2 1.3 .446 .369 .672
10-11 Sac 71 24.0 8.6 4.3 1.0 0.8 0.2 1.0 .412 .372 .673
11-12 Cle 65 20.6 7.1 3.5 1.0 0.6 0.3 1.0 .403 .315 .685
12-13 Cle 43 11.7 4.0 2.7 0.7 0.6 0.3 0.5 .394 .329 .537
13-14 Hou 71 18.1 6.9 3.7 1.2 0.6 0.2 1.0 .422 .347 .680
14-15 Sac 67 21.1 8.9 3.9 1.5 0.5 0.1 1.3 .489 .402 .733
15-16 Sac 69 27.2 11.8 5.9 1.4 0.8 0.2 1.4 .481 .409 .648
16-17 Sac 22 18.0 5.9 4.1 1.2 0.5 0.0 0.8 .453 .379 .571
16-17 NO 1 24.0 12.0 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0 .556 .500
16-17 Min 13 17.1 3.5 1.5 0.8 1.0 0.2 0.8 .500 .200 .625
16-17 Total 36 17.9 5.2 3.1 1.0 0.6 0.1 0.8 .470 .349 .586
17-18 GS 53 14.0 5.7 3.8 1.0 0.3 0.4 0.7 .580 .455 .725
Career 552 20.7 8.0 4.1 1.2 0.6 0.2 1.0 .451 .369 .678

On July 11, 2018, Casspi signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, and figures to provide veteran leadership as they attempt to return to the playoffs.

TJ Leaf

Leaf was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and moved to California as a kid, and ended up playing for the UCLA Bruins. He was later selected by the Pacers in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft with the 18th overall pick. 

Leaf figures to have a promising NBA career – standing at 6'10 and weighing 230 lb, with a shot that stretches out to the 3 point line, he is suited for the modern NBA. We expect him to get more playing time as the upcoming season progresses.

2017-18 12.7 20 57.1 48.5 3 0 2 5 14 80
NBA Rank 439th 38th 418th 181st 439th 424th 255th 368th 361st

Recent Jewish NBA Players:

Jordan Farmar
Although he's no Smush Parker, Farmar is a local legend when people talk about former LA Lakers' point guards. Farmar has the best of both worlds: his mother is Jewish, (making him fully Jewish according to Jewish law), and his father was a minor league baseball player, thereby giving him the athleticism that seems to escape most Jews. Jordan Farmar even went to Hebrew School in LA, and had a Bar Mitzvah.

As for his NBA prowess, well, Farmar is no slouch, as he has eked out a moderately successful NBA career. Although never really a starter, Farmar is a top notch backup point guard, who knows how to run an offense and keep things fluid. He won't take over a game, but he'l keep things stable and can score occasionally as well.

Farmar's biggest contribution came in the playoffs (he is a two time champ), and his performance in the 2009-2010 playoffs (particularly in the Finals) were rock solid, providing smart passing and solid long distance shooting down the stretch.

2006–07 L.A. Lakers 72 2 15.1 .422 .328 .711 1.7 1.9 .6 .1 4.4
2007–08 L.A. Lakers 82 0 20.6 .461 .371 .679 2.2 2.7 .9 .1 9.1
2008–09 L.A. Lakers 65 0 18.3 .391 .336 .584 1.8 2.4 .9 .2 6.4
2009–10 L.A. Lakers 82 0 18.0 .435 .376 .671 1.6 1.5 .6 .1 7.2
2010–11 New Jersey 73 18 24.6 .392 .359 .820 2.4 5.0 .8 .1 9.6
2011–12 New Jersey 39 5 21.3 .467 .440 .905 1.6 3.3 .6 .1 10.4
2013–14 L.A. Lakers 41 5 22.2 .415 .438 .746 2.5 4.9 .9 .2 10.1
2014–15 L.A. Clippers 36 0 14.7 .386 .361 .909 1.2 1.9 .6 .1 4.6
2015–16 Memphis 12 10 24.3 .420 .356 1.000 2.1 3.1 1.3 .2 9.2
2016–17 Sacramento 2 0 17.5 .333 .444 1.5 4.5 1.0 .0 6.0
Career 504 40 19.5 .423 .374 .739 1.9 2.9 .8 .1 7.7


2007 L.A. Lakers 5 5 22.8 .429 .200 .857 2.8 1.6 1.2 .2 6.4
2008 L.A. Lakers 21 0 17.1 .383 .386 .875 1.6 1.3 .3 .2 5.7
2009 L.A. Lakers 20 1 13.0 .391 .308 .737 1.6 1.7 .5 .2 4.7
2010 L.A. Lakers 23 0 13.1 .404 .400 .692 1.2 1.4 .7 .0 4.6
2016 Memphis 4 4 28.3 .323 .333 1.000 1.5 4.0 .8 .3 6.8
Career 73 10 15.7 .389 .355 .793 1.5 1.6 .6 .1 5.2


Gal Mekel

Mekel has had an interesting journey in recent years, but is no longer in the NBA.

After playing NCAA with two years at Wichita State, he played in Israel and then Italy. In 2013, he signed a three-year minimum salaried contract with the Dallas Mavericks. In doing so, he became the 2nd Israeli in the NBA (Casspi was the first). Unfortunately for Mekel, his NBA career didn't last long, with his paltry career numbers as evidence:

2013–14 Dallas 31 1 9.4 .349 .250 .667 .9 2.0 .1 .0 2.4
2014–15 New Orleans 4 0 10.8 .150 .0 .0 .3 3.3 .5 .0 1.5
Career   35 1 9.6 .311 .217 .667 .8 2.2 .2 .0 2.3

Though Mekel is not an active player, he is certainly on the fringe, and on the radar of a handful of GM's who need reserve point guards.

This article overlaps with our NBA players from Israel page. Also, be sure to check out our new list of Italian NBA players!

Future Jewish NBA Players:

Deni Avdija is the talk of the town as a possible top 5 pick in the 2020 NBA draft. At  6’9, Avdija possesses excellent ball skills in the open floor. He has the ability to pass on the move and has a great feel for the game. He finished the FIBA U20 tournament with averages of 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 steals per game, also placing second in the tournament with an efficiency index at 22.6 on average.

Who Will Win The NBA Finals in 2017?

box<<Tell us who you think will win the NBA Finals this coming June 2017 in our online survey!

Please scroll down for our infographic on the NBA Finals history, as well as a breakdown on the teams most likely to face off for the NBA Championship. 
Please note that our CORRECT predictions and analysis from last year is on the bottom of the page below the NBA Finals infographic. 

Will the Cavs or Warriors Win the 2017 NBA Finals?

This is not an easy question to answer. Last year we were confident in the Cavs ability to win it all, and we made our predictions public and ended up being correct. However, now the Warriors have added the 3rd or 4th best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant, to a team that won 73 games. That is unheard of in sports, to add a player of that calibur to an already amazing team. However, there is just one problem.

The Warriors won fewer games this season, and that can be a result of two things: they gave up many important bench players in order to sign Durant, or they didn't take the regular season as seriously, due to the lofty expectations that came with 73 wins from the year before. But, it stands to reason that Vegas' odds are a bit slanted toward the Warriors, as the Cavs are currently showing 8:1 odds to win. That's a great bet considering that they have an all time top 3 player on their team, and by the way, he is currently in his prime, and playing in his 7th consecutive NBA finals. That is wild!

The question of who will win the NBA finals becomes a matchup question. Who has the best players, best team, and best coach?

Let's match up by position:

Point Guard: Steph Curry may have won back to back MVP's and a ring, but Kyrie Irving actually plays him to a draw, and you can check the stats on that one. I'd say that Shaun Livingston and Deron Williams are about equal at this point in their careers.

Shooting Guard: Sure, Klay Thompson is definitely a better player than both Iman Shumpert and JR Smith. However, Klay has not had an amazing playoffs, and both Smith and Shumper can rough him up. So even though Klay is superior, the advantage seems to be even here.

Small Forward: LeBron James vs Kevin Durant. I am going to side with the 3rd greatest player ever currently in his prime. Also, the last time they faced eachother in the NBA finals, LeBron defeated Durant.

Power Forward: Draymond Green owns Kevin Love, and this is not a question. However, Love has the skills and touch to play Green to a draw, and I believe that this matchup may determine the outcome of who will win this NBA Finals grudge matchup.

Center: Tristan Thompson and ZaZa Pachulia are both aggressive players, but Tristan  definitely meshes better with his team than ZaZa does. 

Overall, the Warriors might be favored because they have a more historically better team, but the Cavs' odds of +800 are so high that I will bet on Cavs in 7.

Who Will Win Each NBA Finals Game Prediction:

  • Game 1: Cavs
  • Game 2: Warriors
  • Game 3: Warriors
  • Game 4: Cavs
  • Game 5: Warriors
  • Game 6: Cavs
  • Game 7: Cavs

Road to the Finals UPDATE 5/9/2017:

Okay folks, it has been an interesting playoff series, that's for sure. And for those wondering who will win the NBA Finals in 2017, well, it's still b/w the Cavs and Warriors. Now, going back to the playoffs: On the one hand, everyone is saying that this has been a boring playoffs, because we all know that the inevitable is happening: the Warrios and Cavs will face off again in the upcoming 2017 NBA Finals. Blah blah blah. That doesn't mean that the road to a championship is any less exciting!! Granted, the Cavs and Warriors have both swept each of their opponents rather easily (Pacers, Raptors, Blazers, and Jazz). This makes these two teams the first pair of teams to both start the post season 8-0. What this means is that the upcoming NBA Finals is shaping up to be an all timer.

However, in the meantime, let's not get ahead of ourselves, as there are still four other teams duking it out in their respective conferences. The Boston Celtics are doing their best to fend off the Washington Wizards, but regardless of the Celtics #1 seed, it looks like this is an even series right now. Washington could easily beat the Celtics, and then face the Cavs. Obviously with LeBron at full health, the Wiz ain't beating them, though they could take a game or two. 

What is far more interesting is the West. The Spurs are battling the Rockets, and it looks like a toss-up right now. Obviously, whoever wins that series is not expected to beat the Warriors (now that Kevin Durant is at full health). However, both the Spurs and Rockets are muchhhh better teams than the Wizards or Celtics, which means the Warriors will have a tougher road to get through on their way back to the NBA Finals.

So, in summary, although the playoffs are interesting, the end result is still the same: Both the Cavs and the Warriors are on their way back to the Finals this coming June 2017. And if you're still asking who will win the Finals, it's too early to say. The Warriors are the favorites, but, LeBron is still the best player in the league and it's not even close. We will make an official prediction come June!

Which NBA Team will win the 2017 NBA Finals & Take Home a Championship Trophy?

Who do you think will win the NBA Finals in June 2016? The Warriors, Cavs & Spurs are favorites to win the Finals. Read our 1 prediction here:2017 has been an interesting year for the NBA, and will likely feature the FIRST EVER GRUDGE MATCH between the last two champions. Consider how crazy that is! Never in the NBA have the two prior champions faced off in another matchup. Granted, it hasn't happened yet, but the Golden State Warrios and Cleveland Cavaliers are obviously heavily favored to face off in the NBA Finals in 2017, to the point that there is almost no reason for me to write about other fringe contenders such as the Toronto Raptors (they're not ready yet), Milwaukee Bucks (also not ready), the Houston Rockets (fun regular season team but that's it), San Antonio Spurs (they can't beat GSW), Los Angeles Clippers (they are the same exact team the last 3 years), and maybe mayyybe the Memphis Grizzlies (they don't have the depth to make it to the Finals).

2017 Eastern Conference Finals Contenders

Cleveland Cavaliers will Return to the Finals

Look, the East is certainly getting better, but it’s still the East. There is no reason that the Cavaliers should not make the Finals this year, unless LeBron James gets hurt. That’s right – even if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love go down (only one of them), they will still make the Finals because Lebron is a top 3 all time player still in his prime. Sure, Toronto got better. And they will put up a fight. But the Cavs actually got better too – they resisted the urge to trade Love for Melo, and instead they picked up Deron Williams for free! Talk about filling their need for a playmaker, and finally filling Delly’s vacated position from last year. As for the Finals themselves, well, that’s another story, and we will revisit that the closer we get to May and June 2017.

Toronto Raptors Playoff Success

Toronto didn’t land a superstar, but they got better that’s for sure. Adding Serge Ibaka (borderline All Star) as well as PJ Tucker makes them a deeper team no doubt. I wouldn’t say that the Cavs are afraid of the Raps, but they should be worried. With Lowry back to full health soon, and DeRozan carrying their offense in the meantime, this is a formidable team, and probably the best Raps team that the Cavs will face. The series will go 6 games at least. But that means that the Cavs have to win in Toronto. LeBron won’t lose this series, but it will be tough.

Boston Celtics Not Good Enough

As we wrote about here, the Celtics didn’t acquire a big time player, and essentially gave up on this season. Had they acquired Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, or DeMarcus Cousins, then they could beat the Cavs. But they didn’t. Whether that was the right move is a question for another time. But as currently constructed THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL they are beating the Cavs. Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are nice players, but they need 1 more bonafide star in order to be a real Finals contender in June 2017.

The Rest

The Wizards and Hawks are fine teams. But get real. They ain’t beating LeBron even if they were spotted 2-0 leads in their respective playoff series.

2017 Western Conference Finals Contenders

Warriors Can’t Be Stopped

This might be the greatest NBA team ever, and we won’t know until the Finals ends. This is because they just won 73 games, and then added the 3rd best player in Kevin Durant to their team!! Granted, they gave up some of their bench to do so, and might be top heavy. But Zaza Pachulia is filling in nicely, and Durant more than replaces Harrison Barnes. The question is, does Steph Curry get hurt again? Does Draymond Green control his temper and avoid suspensions this year? I’m not sure. The Warriors are the favorites to make the Finals and win it too, but it’s certainly no slam dunk.

The Spurs' Fine Tuned Machine

Every year we look at the Spurs and wonder when they will break down. Not this year folks. Kawhi Leonard has turned into a superstar, and LeMarcus Aldridge who was an All Star has turned into a pretty effective second fiddle. The question with this team is, how the hell can they match up the firepower with the Warriors. Leonard can’t be stopped, fine, but what else do they have? Can Aldridge step up and provide the 25 ppg needed to make them competitive? Does Tony Parker have gas left in the tank? I love the Spurs, but this might just be an impossible climb for them.

Are the Rockets for Real?

Head coach Mike D’Antoni wants them to shoot 50 3’s a game. That is literally insane. But considering they have the guys to do it: James Harden, Eric Gordon, Louis Williams, Ryan Anderson – well, it could happen. The Rockets actually have a higher chance of beating GSW than the Spurs do, and that’s because Houston can actually go toe for toe with the Warriors in terms of shooting and scoring. Assuming Harden goes off for 40+ ppg in 2 of the games, and I’d say the Rockets have a better shot than most people think.

The Rest

Everyone likes to say the Clippers have a shot because they have 2 top 10 players. Get real. They get blown out by Golden State every regular season game. It’s not happening. They are simply not deep enough. The Jazz are also a nice game, but they aren’t making it past the first round.

The interesting teams are the Grizz and Thunder. (No, the Pelicans are not interesting just because they have the best frontcourt tandem since Duncan and Robinson, since they have zero guards). The Grizzlies are interesting because they do have that tough frontcourt, but with an actual All Star caliber player in Mike Conley. The Grizz style of ball is good for playoff basketball. I don’t care who they are playing – they will take any team in the NBA to 6 games. And if that happens, then all it takes is an injury or suspension and they can slip by. The Thunder on the other hand don’t really have a shot at making it to the NBA Finals in June 2017, but it will definitely be fun to watch Russel Westbrook in playoff mode, especially if he gets to go against former teammate Kevin Durant.

Vegas Betting Odds TO WIN THE 2017 NBA FINALS:

Team & Odds  
  • Warriors +250
  • Cavaliers +600

Finals infographic

JUNE 17th, 16-17 UPDATE: Wow, what a game for the Cavs! LeBron James turned in another 41 point performance, and Tristan Thompson came up huge with 15 points, 16 boards, and a handful of thunderous alleyoop slams. Kyrie had a few points as well. Interestingly enough for the Cavs, Kevin Love once again gave them zero production. Although to be fair, he did get in early foul trouble, but it was quite shocking to see his putrid stat line. 

As for the Warriors, well, Steph had 30 and Klay 25 points, but they got nothing from Draymond Green, who had an underwhelming 8 points. Considering they lost by 14, it is imperative for Green to provide some offensive punch, especially considering that Harrison Barnes has been absolutely putrid in this NBA Finals, with an 0-8 performance last night, and 2-14 the night prior. As for who will win game 7 of the NBA Finals, I am sticking with my original bet, which is Cavs in 7. Sure, no one's ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. But the Cavs have momentum, as well as a top 3-5 all time greatest NBA player in LeBron James. 

June 12th UPDATE: So many twists and turns in this year's NBA Finals! The Cavs romped the Warriors in game 3 and then gave the game away in game 4. But now, it seems that the NBA has given something back to the Cavs, in the form of a suspension for Draymond Green for his groin hit on LeBron James in game 4. There are two obvious questions here: Did Green deserve the punishment? And does his suspension really hurt the Warriors? 

The answers are yes and yes. In terms of the punishment, though it seems harsh, was actually the culmination of a number of flagrant fouls that Green had amassed in the playoffs. The 4th flagrant foul results in an automatic suspension. Although the hit itself wasn't so outrageous (LeBron needled Green by stepping over him), the collective acts of all of Green's fouls brought him the suspension. In terms of hurting the Warriors, I leave you this statistic, courtesy of Zach Lowe: 


Basically, with no Green in the lineup, the Warriors lose their 2nd or 3rd best player, as well as the centerpiece of their "lineup of death". Sure, Curry and Thompson can get hot on their own, but it will be very difficult without their emotional leader Draymond Green.

June 7th UPDATE: Wow! Cavs are not looking good. I personally chose Cavs in 7 over the Warriors and I'm not going to pull out from that bet now. As I wrote below, the Cavs have the one player who can take over a game even when his shot isn't falling. In game 3, expect LeBron to put his head down and drive to the rim. Again and again. Expect Tristan Thompson to trail him so that he can clean up any messes. Expect Love, Smith, and Kyrie to spread out so that LeBron can kick it out for the open 3. This play is their one move in which they are superior than Golden State. As for the Warriors, they are looking good both offensively and defensively. Sure, Curry and Thompson haven't exploded yet, but so what? Credit Tyrone Lue for shutting them down. Additionally, I don't think Draymond will be able to maintain the torrid pace he is at. I know that most pundits have the Warriors winning the NBA Finals, I'm stick with Cavs in 7. 

June 2nd UPDATE: Okay folks, the NBA Finals are here. And in the world of Steph Curry and friends, that means one thing: The Golden State Warriors are the favorites to win it all. Or at least that's what Vegas and pretty much every single sports outlet says. And though in my brain I think the Warriors will indeed win, I'm actually going to bet on the Cavs to win…in 7. Why? 

First of all, the odds are really good. I think this series is going 7 games. And if you choose either team to win in 7, you can get really good odds. So I plan to bet on Cavs in 7, and I'll throw down a little on the Dubs to win in 7 as well, to cover my losses. 

But the primary reason that I like the Cavs is simple: they are hungry. Can you imagine LeBron, who will go down as one of the 7 best players of all time, losing 3 Finals' in a row? Can you imagine the Cavs, better than last year's team (added Kyrie, Love, Frye, and Lue as coach) losing to the Warriors 2 years in a row? Did you know that out of the 9 last Finals rematches, 8 of them were won by the team that lost the previous year?? Yea, there's a reason for that. Because championship winners get hangovers. And if they are facing the very team they beat the year before, forget about it. 

Sure, the Warriors had a thrilling comeback in their down 3-1 series against the Thunder. It was great to watch, and the Thunder were a much harder matchup than the joke Raptors. However, the Warriors are tired, and got rattled against the Thunder. Had Klay Thompson not drained 11 (!) 3's in game 6, the Warriors would be chilling in South Beach. 

And although one popular theory is that the Cavs are actually a worse team against GS with Kyrie and Love back, because they are not defensive players, and the Dubs struggle against gritty, grind it out types like Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson, (and Mozgov to a degree, due to his size), that isn't the case necessarily. Lue is using Love in ways that Blatt wasn't. The Cavs have real spacing now, and their own lineup of death with Love at center, and LBJ at power forward is fascinating. I'd love to see Harrison Barnes chase around LeBron all game. Good luck. 

In terms of defense, I do think that Delly will get more PT this series than the last 3 combined, because he did do a decent job on Curry in last year's NBA Finals. Even though Kyrie is not great on D, he'll get his PT. I expect to see Delly play alongside Kyrie in the backcourt, with JR or Shump playing at the 3, with LBJ at the 4, and Love at the 5. Tristan and Frye will rotate minutes at the 5 and 4. 

I think the Cavs can win the NBA Finals in 7 games. It will be tough, and they are definitely the underdogs, but ultimately they want and need it more. LeBron can still take over a game or a series. Expect him to do this time. For himself, and for Cleveland.

May 24th UPDATE: The OKC Thunder have officially taken control on the Western Conference Finals, after blowing out the Warriors in game 3. They now lead 2-1. Now, before everyone gets into a hissyfit, remember that the Warriors were down 2-1 last year TWO separate times! They were down to Memphis and later to Cleveland. It's ridiculous that the ESPN NBA analysts all keep changing their picks after each game. Even Nate Silver has jumped on the OKC bandwagon and given them a 56% chance of beating GSW. LOL! As if the Warriors didn't just win 73 games this past year. Analysts are a joke!

As for the Cavs, well, no one expects them to lose this series. It's cute that the Raptors tied the series up at 2-2, but I can tell you that the Vegas odds are going to be heavily slanted toward the Cavs returning to home court for game 5. LeBron is a top 7 all time player, and guys like that don't go down easy. He will take over the series and bring them to the Finals.


May 10th UPDATE: As we correctly predicted in this article, Steph Curry is officially injured with a tweaked ankle. The question that many fans have is, should Steve Kerr have played Steph Curry in game 4? In retrospect it's easy to say "hell no!". But even before it happened, the whole league and its fanbase (including this podcast host!) were practically shouting that Steph Curry is still a brittle player. Sure, he had a remarkable injury-free run last year, but that was and is bound to catch up with him. Additionally, I would argue that any #1 seed, especially a legendary one, should be able to beat an 8th seed even without their best player. The Warriors without Steph are still an elite team, and would have handled the Rockets regardless of how many points James Harden weasels his way to. At this point, Curry could rest a week, but he won't be 100% for the next series, and in the Conference Finals, the hungry and rested San Antonio Spurs will be chomping at the bit to take on the Steph-less Warriors.


Original Mid-season Finals Preview Article:

Most NBA pundits are predicting that the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Finals in June, and that would certainly be the easy prediction to make.

However, I would like to argue that the road to the NBA Finals will be much harder than last year, and winning it is another story altogether.

Check out this awsome mini-movie about last year's underrated Finals:

The Golden State Warriors are Back

steph curry nba finals june 2016Last year, the Warriors lucked out with a few aspects: they avoided the San Antonio Spurs, who were defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were then knocked out by the Houston Rockets, considered to be an inferior team.

This year, however, things will be different. The Warriors are almost certain to lock heads with the Spurs, since the teams will likely finish as the 1-2 seed in the West, meaning that as long as they win their first 2 individual playoff series, they will face each other in the conference finals.  

The main question for the Warriors becomes injuries. Can they stay healthy again? It is quite remarkable and unbelievable that Steph Curry has remained healthy after early career ankle injuries. Remember folks, those ankle injuries were serious enough that he signed a below market value contract of 4 years for $44 million extension! The fact that they haven’t resurfaced is downright puzzling.

Additionally, Curry played over 100 games last season! That has got to start taking its toll on him as he continues toward another 100 game season. Remember, the playoffs are more physical – if Curry gets pushed around by a physical Clippers or Grizzlies team, then his injury risk jumps. We’ve also seen injuries to Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes this season as well.

The Hungry San Antonio Spurs

tim duncan nba finals june 2016This is probably Tim Duncan’s last season, and it is safe to say that he is hungry as ever to win an NBA championship, especially in light of last season’s surprising first round flameout against the Clippers.

Of course, Duncan has finally started to show signs of decline, and might not even warrant being on the floor in the final minutes of the 4th quarter.

That’s okay, though, as the Spurs picked up a huge offseason acquisition in LeMarcus Aldridge, who is capable of hitting a bit shot or 2 when needed. Aldridge, is the ideal big man in today’s NBA: he can bang in the paint, play solid defense, but also hit long range shots. He might not be a reliable 3 point shooter, but the fact that he can drill 17 footers in his sleep gives more than enough range for the Spurs to operate around him.

The continued emergence of Kawhi Leonard is another great thing for this team. He has turned into a legitimate MVP candidate (if Steph Curry isn’t included), and provides underrated ferocious defense to go along with his suddenly very solid offensive game.

Leonard’s value is simply the ability to shut down an opposing player – whether it is LeBron James or Steph Curry. Sure – Kawhi had trouble against Steph when the Spurs faced the Warriors in the regular season, but that’s fine. Kawhi definitely slowed him down a bit, and is a weapon that most teams don’t have.

The Urgency of the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs are the favorites to make the Finals in the East, as they basically cruised their last season, and are now fully healthy and starting to gel. There are some risks with this team, however.

Injuries to Kyrie Irving are always liable to pop up. Kyrie is a very brittle player, and was unable to contribute in last year’s Finals trip. Kevin Love has had back issues in the past, and the Cavs can only hope that he remains healthy. LeBron James has a ton of miles and plays at a bruising pace. His physical play makes him liable to get hurt, and he too remains an injury risk.

The shocking midseason coaching change from David Blatt to Tyron Lue has begun to pay dividends, as the Cavs are cruising, and their uptempo offense has Kevin Love finally finding his groove.

The Cavs are expected to win the East with modest ease. The question for them is whether or not they can beat the Warriors or the Spurs in the Finals. If LeBron can replicate his insanely amazing performance from 2015's NBA Finals, then the Cavs are in good shape:

Although the Spurs, Cavs, and Warriors are the three current favorites to win the NBA Finals in June, there are a few other teams that have punchers’ chances. Fortunately for the Cavs, one of these teams is a longshot from the East, while the West has two other formidable teams which have a very outside shot of crashing the Finals in June.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Remember the Finals from 2012

Ever since they traded away James Harden to the Houston Rockets, the Thunder have been very good, but simply not as good as they used to be. Remember, they made the Finals in 2012 with Harden, and they have since replaced him with spare parts which have not gotten the job done.

However, when a team had two players who arguably top 5 in the league, it is hard to dismiss them as legit contenders. Kevin Durant is back to his MVP-self, averaging over 27 points per game with 51% shooting from the field. Oh, and he is knocking down 39% from 3. Combine that with Russell Westbrook’s 24 points and 10 assists per game, and you have a devastating combination.

One issue with the Thunder is depth. Beyond the front court muscle of Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, it gets thin very quickly. Sure, they have a low post scorer in Enes Kanter, but his complete lack of defensive acumen is embarrassing. Their guard situation isn’t great either, with Dion Waiter s and Andre Roberson providing erratic scoring. Anthony Morrow can hit 3’s but he’s only getting 14 minutes per game.

In a one game playoff, the Thunder can beat anyone. And possibly a 3 game series. But in 7 games, I simply don’t think they have the depth to compete with the deeper Spurs or Warriors.

The Los Angeles Clippers Need Depth

The Clippers are also possess two incredible players, both of whom are in the top 10, in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. But, much like the Thunder, the Clippers have a stunningly empty bench. Lance Stephenson did not turn into the rotation player that Doc Rivers gambled on, and Paul Pierce is a shell of his former self. And even though Dandre Jordan is a huge cog in the paint for rebounding, blocking shots, and help defense, he simply can’t stay on the floor at ends of games due to his horrendous foul shooting.

There have been talks of trading Blake Griffin for a piece that makes sense on this team, such as Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony – two guys who have better offensive range than Griffin. However, until they do that, the Clippers are unlikely to make or even win the Finals this coming summer.

The Miami Heat Are Lurking

Although the Miami Heat are only in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, teams know that their starting 5 makes them a force to be reckoned with. Additionally, starting point guard Goran Dragic has underplayed thus far, and if he turns it on before the playoffs, it would not be outrageous for the Heat to find themselves returning to the NBA Finals, which they won 2 years ago.

There are two factors that can affect the Heat: Chris Bosh’s health, and his starting frontcourt mate Hassan Whiteside. The former has battled blood clot issues and might be benched yet again. Whiteside, despite a very good season thus far (a league-leading 3.9 blocks per game!), is considered to have a bad temperament, and unlikely to be resigned by the Heat this summer. There have been significant rumors stating that Whiteside may be traded straight up (along with salary cap filler) for Dwight Howard. If that trade happens, the Heat may very well shake up the East, and depending on how Howard fits, might give actual fits to the Cavs.

If the Heat can land Howard, I would not be shocked if they give the Cavs hell for 7 games and could have a decent chance at making the NBA Finals this June. Winning the NBA Finals, however, is unlikely, as both the Spurs and Warriors would still be able to handle the Heat.

Who Will Win the NBA Finals?

That question is hard to say. Most people point to last summer with the Cavs winning 2 games against the Warriors despite missing their 2nd and 3rd best players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, a fully healthy Cavs team just got blown out by the Warriors during a regular season game, thereby blowing that logic out of the water.

It remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – the Warriors are currently the favorites to win the NBA Finals come June.

Who do you think will win the NBA Finals in June?

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Who is Kristaps Porzingis? Everything You Need to Know

kristaps cartoon

Scroll down for original podcast.

How good is Kristaps Porzinzgis?

Well, they say the sky is the limit with him. Seriously though, there is no real limit with this guy. There is a reason why he is called a unicorn. At 7’3, he can block shots, defend the paint, run, score in the post, knock down jumpers, AND he has 3 point range. It’s really incredible in terms of his full body of work. His only weakness may be that he can still be pushed around a bit. Also, the presence of Carmelo Anthony may actually slightly slow down Kris’ offensive growth.

Full Highlights of Kristaps Porzingis: Blocks, Dunks, and 3 Pointers:

When people ask how good can this kid be, no one is quite sure what to say. Most NBA pundits are afraid to say he will be a hall of famer, as they don’t know if he can stay healthy (there aren’t too many 7 foot 3 guys who are bastions of health), and wonder if he can become a more fluid player within an offense. HOWEVER, if you were to stop his career right now, you would see a guy averaging 20 and 8 with a continuous highlight reel of blocks, dunks, 3 pointers, and impressive post moves.

I do get the feeling that most NBA players are not afraid of him (there is a stereotype against thin Europeans), but that will change. This is because Porzy will undoubtedly posterize a number of these players, and eventually will become a full on All Star. Check out some of his awesome highlights below:


How old is Kristaps Porzingis?

When he was drafted, he was just 19 years old! And what’s crazy is that even at that age he was already putting in decent numbers, with 14 and 7 in his rookie year. His sophomore year is better, and he is putting in 16 and 7.5. He was born on August 2, 1995, making him 21 years old. In comparison, fellow rookie Karl-Anthony Towns was born November 15, 1995.

How tall is Kristaps Porzingis?

He is listed as 7’3, though some in the NBA have said he looks even taller, though this is likely due to his thin frame. To be fair, he has gained significant muscle in the last 6 months, and may even be a factor for his recent Achilles injury. He is 221 centimeters.

Where is Kristaps Porzingis from?

He was born in LiepājaLatvia. He played in the younger age bracket with BK Liepājas Lauvas team, which was the most popular team in Liepāja. He played with them until he was 15 years old. He then moved to Sevilla, Spain, which is where he rose to prominence. He eventually moved to New York after the Knicks drafted him in the 2014 NBA Draft. His Latvian origin provoked the nickname “The Lativian Gangbanger”, popularized by crazy actor Michael Rapaport on more than one Bill Simmons’ podcast.

Projected Career Statistics for Kristaps Porzingis:

We have yet to see the best stats yet from Porzy, but here are his rookie season numbers, followed by his career projections:















New York












Projected Career Stats

New York












The reason his projected stats: His minutes will obviously go up, but he’s already suffering from a few minor injuries, leading management to call on coaches to limit him to around 30-33 minutes per game. His field goal percentage will obviously rise, as he simply acclimates to NBA offenses, and gets more touches in the paint. Rebounds will go up as well, especially once Jo Noah retires (because he has become a fossil), and Porzy plays 85% of his minutes at Center. Assists will go up as well, as most big men get smarter and understand the flow of an offense as they get older (think Rik Smits). Blocks will go up due to his increased minutes at Center. Points will obviously go up as well as he becomes a number #1 option, especially after Carmelo “flawed superstar” Anthony moves along or willingly takes a backseat (but won’t be able to because his ego is bigger than his shoe size). At his peak I will guess that Porzy will pour in 25 ppg in another season or 2.

Porzingis Contract Situation

Check out this breakdown from on the contract that Porzy signed with the Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis signed a 2 year / $12,953,040 contract with the Knicks, with$12,953,040 guaranteed, and an annual avg salary of $6,476,520. In 2016-17, Porzingis will earn a base salary of $4,317,720.

Let’s just say that this contract (as are most rookie deals with great players) is a STEAL! If he was on the open market he would command about $35 million a season. The crazy thing is he was drafted after Jhalil Okafor! Jesus Christ what a screwup by the Sixers. Anyways, Porzy is literally untradeable, unless Durant is mentioned.

How was Adidas able to sign Porzingis to a shoe deal?

This was certainly one of the strangest shoe deals in history. Not for the money involved but rather for Nike walking away. Basically, Kris was signed with Nike, and then Adidas came down with their own shoe offer, reportedly for somewhere between 3 and 6 million dollars. Nike had the opportunity to match it, but declined to do so according to ESPN. Why? Well, we can only speculate. But the reason is probably because Nike brass didn’t think that Porznigis fits the mold of the high flying, sweet shooting, dunking NBA player who sells shoes and jerseys. Also, big men don’t sell as many shoes as guards and swingmen. The problem is, Porzingis sold the 4th most jerseys in his rookie year.

I think the reason for passing on him goes beyond the mold of player he is – it is also because he is a foreigner. Foreign players are less likely to sell shoes like homegrown stars such as Kyrie Irving (technically from Australia), and Derrick Rose (his career has fallen apart). I suppose the lesson here is that Nike lavished hundreds of millions of particular players but seemed hesitant to go the distance with Porznigis, and it was probably a mistake.

Who is Kristaps Porzingis Dating?

This is a question which we won’t get the answer to for a while, primarily because he ain’t dating anyone! GQ basically asked him this very question, and he responded with this quote:

“No! I mean you always gotta find a little bit of time for the girls, right? But there’s nothing serious really. Nothing too serious…I haven’t been that social yet, and I have been mostly focusing on basketball, but when I have a little more time I might to have to meet some new people.”

Although funnily enough, Kristaps did make it clear that he gets girls, and implied that he’s had his share of one night stands: “Yeah, when I feel like it, I have a place in the city that I can escape to.

The best we can do is follow Kristaps on Instagram so that if he posts pics of a woman, we’ll know right away! What a sad life we live.

The rest of this article is to be continued…


We originally aired a podcast episode all about Porzingis on November 27th, 2015:


Kristaps Porzingis is all the rage in New York, putting up 13 points and 9 rebounds per game. In this episode, I talk about the media reaction when the Knicks drafted him, whether he would go higher if the draft was redone today, why he could be better than Dirk Nowitzki, how he differs from Linsanity, and how the he fits on the Knicks roster. Make sure to check out our coverage of the NBA Finals – it's going to be big!

Last licks for the Knicks? What NY can do to increase its chances to contend

Carmelo Anthony
If you recently opened a sports section in a New York newspaper, you may think the Knicks are in contention. Sports pundits and fans in the area are extremely excited about the team's recent success, and rightfully so.

Knicks…Playoff Team?

The team's 11-9 record was its best through 20 games in four years, and the Knicks now sit at 14-13. Kristaps Porzingis is showing great progress and some say he may already be the best overall talent on the team. Kyle O'Quinn and Brandon Jennings have provided needed sparks off the bench. Finally, Derrick Rose has shown some signs of being at least a diet version of his former MVP self.

So what's the worry? Well, the fact is that this current unit, at least for the next several seasons, has a ceiling. That ceiling is more or less due to Carmelo Anthony. Now, let's be frank, Melo is a phenomenal offensive talent, but he is showing clear signs of aging and unfortunately slows down the development of Porzingis. There's also zero chance he waives his no-trade clause, so he is in New York to stay.

With Melo, plus a resurgent Rose and a developing Porzingis, the Knicks’ ceiling is a low playoff seed. Knicks fans may still take that outcome given the team's disappointing seasons in recent years, but we can do better New York!

First, we need to decipher what puts Melo in the best situation on this Knicks roster:

1. Melo needs to play more power forward. The small forward slot would be beneficial if Anthony were used more in the post. Defenses have gotten better in this regard, and considering he isn't as pass-friendly as he probably should be, it's relatively easier to defend him in the post even with a smaller defender. Having said that, Melo's most comfortable and effective move in recent seasons is the 15-18 foot jab fake/jump shot dance. By playing the 4, Melo should face slower defenders who he can take more advantage of in these iso sets. Defensively, there are issues here, so his time at the 4 may need to be staggered more with Noah at the 5 rather than with Porzingis at center.

2. Aggressive point guard play. Over the past few seasons, the Knicks have seen passive PGs like Jose Calderon and Raymond Felton defer to Melo at times. This creates less overall ball movement and more standing on offense. Now, when Rose is aggressive, it benefits the Knicks because it catches the defense off guard and opens the perimeter up for bigs and wings like Porzingis, Courtney Lee, etc. The issue the Knicks currently have, or at least can improve upon, is Rose's inconsistency. Additionally, Rose can sometimes get uber-aggressive, and his decision-making can be improved. Rose is a massive upgrade at the 1 for the Knicks. They just need a better and more consistent version of him.

So what can the New York Knicks do?

The Knicks need to look at a trade and find a way to get a better version of Rose as well as a strong defensive 3 who can space the floor, allowing Melo to play more 4.

A three-way deal with Minnesota and Phoenix could make sense. The Wolves have had one of the more disappointing starts in the league, and Coach Tom Thibodeau would benefit from having a familiar face back. The Suns still have a massive point guard quandary and are better off dealing talent for draft picks/future assets, continuing their rebuild. Here’s the proposed trade:

Knicks trade: Derrick Rose, 2017 1st round pick

Knicks receive: Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker

Wolves trade: Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, top 3-protected 2017 pick

Wolves receive: Derrick Rose

Suns trade: Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker

Suns receive: Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, 2017 Knicks pick, 2017 top 3-protected Minnesota pick

As noted earlier, Thibodeau would feel comfortable with Rose in place and probably needs to make this type of high risk/high reward move to get his season back on track. The Suns net two potential lottery picks to help their rebuild.

Why do the Knicks do it? Bledsoe would be an ideal fit next to Melo in this lineup. Bledsoe also has experience playing both guard slots (so he'll work with Jennings in those units) and has previously played well in Coach Jeff Hornacek's system.

Tucker is a staunch defender and gives the team that necessary extra defensive wing, which allows them to be more comfortable playing small ball.

Ultimately, the Knicks do need to make a trade to move to that upper echelon of their conference. These next two to three years will be awkward for New York, given that fans likely feel the torch should be passed to Porzingis, yet Melo will still lead the team in usage and possessions. The team needs consistent point guard play to hold down the fort and allow Anthony to play more off the ball, and to preserve him for iso sets only when necessary.

Phil Jackson needs to make such a trade to maximize his last licks from these Knicks.

Rising early in the East: All-Star predictions in September

Predicted Eastern Conference All-Stars Kyrie Irving (center) and Andre Drummond (right)
Labor Day is barely over, and as NBA nuts we are lacking the necessary daily fix of NBA fodder. But have no fear, predictions are here! Instead of starting with standings, however, we feel starting with All-Stars has more zing. Without further ado, the predicted 2017 Eastern Conference All-Stars:


Forward: Carmelo Anthony

With Kristaps Porzingis coming into his second season and what seems to be a rejuvenated Knicks team, Melo will likely keep his Eastern starting streak going. The Knicks, with health concerns galore, are likely to have a better-than-anticipated first half, but will probably catch the injury bug at or around the All-Star break to slide into a non-playoffs seed. Still, at the time of the break they'll be in playoff contention, which should guarantee Melo another starting appearance.

Forward: LeBron James

Just trying to get the obvious selections out of the way here. James should at least replicate some statistical line of 26, 7, and 7. His Cavs will probably have the conference's best record to boot, all of which equates to a starting slot. And they will no doubt be back in the NBA Finals this summer.

Center: Andre Drummond

Yes, not all 5 positions need to resemble your standard starting 5, which in seasons past has meant no center in the East's starting lineup. This year that won't be the case, as Drummond will easily be one of the top 5 players in the East—and fans will notice. Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy is poised to continue to assemble a Dwight Howard-like attack around Drummond, and Detroit is expecting a decent uptick in the W column with another season of that young core gelling.

Guard: Kyrie Irving

After his heroic Finals performance and his willingness to play second fiddle well to LeBron, Kyrie has quietly climbed up in recognition among NBA lore. What that exactly means for the remainder of his career largely depends on the Cavs' success in the next 2-3 years, and his ability to be slightly less selfish and improve as a defender. This is likely another starting lock, make that 4 in total, for your East All-Stars.

Forward: Paul George

As I write this, I honestly don't feel confident in any single selection. This slot could be Derrick Rose if New York has a truly great start and Rose throws up at least 17 and 7—not out of the realm of possibility, but not likely. It could be Jeremy Lin, if the Nets are even within 5 games of the 8th seed and Linsanity has returned to New York. Maybe Dwyane Wade if he somehow makes it work in a slash-heavy perimeter scheme in Chicago. Kyle Lowry is probably a somewhat safe pick here if Toronto is still among the East's top teams. In actuality, however, it may really depend on the starting lineup rules. If the NBA loosens the positional requirements, Paul George should be in the starting lineup. Yes, he is a forward, but the NBA tends to try and ensure that the best 5 for a conference start, and they'll make sure George gets in.


Forward: Jimmy Butler

A pretty decent chance at being a reserve lock, Butler is a coach's dream. He will likely ensure Chicago is within playoff striking distance, and given the lack of potential among reserve wings in the East (since the top 3 are starting), Jimmy is a near guarantee to snag the coaches' vote.

Center: Hassan Whiteside

Brace yourselves. We are going to witness the true uniqueness of Miami's center next season. Despite his contract this offseason and some gaudy stat totals, Hassan Whiteside is still underrated. His wins produced per 48 minutes make mockery of the metric, and Miami's record with him versus without him during the last few seasons is like comparing the Golden State Warriors to the Denver Nuggets. Pundits say he is purposely trying to compile blocked shot numbers, which makes his totals less impressive. That concept always irked me. I understand, as a player, how you could theoritically pile up points (volume shots – Kobe), rebounds (steal rebounds from teammates, rebound off missed free throws – Marcus Camby), maybe assists (pass up open lay ups and kick out for shots – Rajon Rondo), but defensively how do you stockpile blocks? More specifically, how does stockpiling blocks hurt your team? If the theory is that Hassan lets defenders blow by so he could then block them, he's still defending the rim and altering shots—also known as his job. With Chris Bosh likely to be out at some point and Wade gone, Whiteside's importance will finally show.

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo

In his 3rd season, the Greek Freak will make the All-Star team. The beauty of the East standings will be in their competitiveness, likely between the 3/4 – 13 slots. This is an important note, because many teams will appear to be in the hunt around the All-Star break. This will make coaches feel more inclined to get someone like Giannis in. He really doesn't have a specific position, but has as good of a chance as anyone outside LeBron to lead his team in all 5 major statistical categories.

Guard: John Wall

To reiterate the above, if you are on a team not from Brooklyn or Philly, you will be in the playoff mix. This is huge for John Wall, who is the best pure point guard in the conference and should make the squad solely as a result of that fact, regardless of team record.

Forward: Serge Ibaka

Yes! Another surprise! After Orlando swapped Victor Oladipo and rookie Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka, pundits were calling for Orlando GM Rob Hennigan's head. Ibaka is a fantastic defensive player with a developed offensive game who was begging for more scoring opportunities in OKC. Instead of incorporating him more in the offense, they picked up Enes Kanter and had more pick and roll plays involving center Steven Adams. Serge Ibaka wants to prove himself as a force in this league, and the Eastern Conference has been put on notice. Expect an All-Star nod for Serge and potentially a playoff appearance for Orlando.

Center: Al Horford

With the Celtics bound for 50+ wins, we need to select someone in green. Al Horford is a fine-tasting cookies and cream Chewy granola bar. You know what you are going to get and it's solid, with a little sugar. Horford is in prime position in Boston, likely sandwiched in a unit with some decent spacing (Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas) and no one really competing with him for boards. With the departure of Jared Sullinger, he is Boston's sole post presence. Expect healthy double-digit rebound averages and scoring flirting with 20 PPG.

Guard: DeMar Derozan

I'm not going to front, I don't love this prediction. Similar to Boston's scenario, coaches will feel compelled to select a Raptor given that they'll likely be a top 3 seed out East. DeMar likely gets a nod over Lowry or even Jonas Valanciunas simply due to the scarcity of talent at the wing slot. Coaches would probably be more compelled to select Wall in competition with Lowry and Horford/Ibaka/Paul Millsap/Whiteside for big men slots in competition with Jonas. I struggled here, as another wing seemed necessary to make this roster. The only other conceivable alternative options are Wade (potentially for nostalgic/respect reasons), Nicolas Batum, and probably rookie Ben Simmons. DeMar has a far greater chance than those 3 of making the squad due to team record alone. I do hope Simmons has an exceptional rookie campaign and Philly isn't awful enough to make coaches reconsider. I hope, but I doubt it.

Last slot: Chris Bosh (if healthy, otherwise Kemba Walker)

Okay, I could have played it safe here. Millsap, Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Lowry and maybe Reggie Jackson could have made a case here, but I'm predicting a sentimental vote. After blood clots and a series of Pharma ads with Arnold Palmer and Kevin Nealon, Chris Bosh seems ready to return to basketball. Given his health scare and Wade bolting, Chris should be able to put up good enough stats that the coaches will reward his return with an All-Star nod. Bosh will benefit from Whiteside's presence on the interior and with some lack of big man depth in Miami, he'll get the minutes and shots needed to return close to 20 and 10 form.

If Bosh does get hurt again, though, expect to see Kemba Walker suit up. You may think it has more to do with his escalation into pseudo-star status. I think it's more about Adam Silver feeling bad he took the All-Star weekend from Charlotte. As a means of gratitude, he will grant Kemba the injury-filler slot.

Up next….the West!

2007 NBA Draft Class – Grades & Analysis: Do Kevin Durant and Al Horford departures re-write history?

Kevin Durant
Conjuring memories of their much-maligned Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan draft decision in the 1980s, the Portland Trail Blazers’ like-minded selection of injury-plagued big man Greg Oden over superstar small forward Kevin Durant with the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft will forever live in infamy. 

Oden’s career spanned…parts of three NBA seasons. Durant won an MVP award and four scoring titles while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder (still the Seattle Supersonics when they drafted him) to four appearances in the Western Conference Finals and one in the NBA Finals.

But a lot can happen in nine years, and although the Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks got great production out of their top 3 draft picks in 2007—Durant and big man Al Horford, respectively—they just lost both stars for nothing in free agency during the 2016 offseason. In that sense, the “winner” of the 2007 draft isn’t so clear-cut. In fact, if you look at today’s Trail Blazers, they’re in fairly similar shape as the Thunder despite choosing Oden over Durant.

Nine years later, we grade the top 10 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft, identify some hidden gems, and reflect on some lessons we learned. The big question: Do this summer's free agency departures of Durant, Horford, and Joakim Noah "re-write" the history of good draft picks for their former teams?


1. Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden

Grade: D

Why not an F for the Blazers here, given that Oden couldn’t stay on the court and the guy they passed up, Durant, at one time was considered an undisputed top-2 player in the league before the rise of Stephen Curry? Well, while you can blame Portland for choosing the wrong player in the Oden vs. Durant pre-draft debate, it wasn’t an outlandish selection at the time. The Blazers made the pick in an era—unlike today’s NBA—when elite big men were still presumed to be a ticket to the championship. So their pick doesn’t get the lowest-possible grade.

2. Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder): Kevin Durant

Grade: A

KD put Oklahoma City on the NBA map with career averages of 27.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Will his departure to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, in turn, crush OKC? The Thunder were able to extend fellow superstar Russell Westbrook’s contract this summer, thus maintaining some character from the Durant era and charting a new course for the franchise that might still lead to contender status down the road. As for the 2007 draft pick itself, although they’re now left with nothing, they got nine great years out of Durant.

3. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford

Grade: A

Just like Durant, Horford left the only NBA team he ever knew this offseason after nine productive years—14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Those stats don’t really do Horford justice, as they don’t reveal his impact on defense, his development of an effective outside shot in recent years, and his broader contributions towards making the Hawks a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Despite Horford leaving for Boston, the Hawks—who replaced him at center with Dwight Howard—should remain a playoff team in the East. For that, they can thank the culture of success they built during the Horford era.

4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Jr.

Grade: A

Akin to Horford, Conley’s career stats with Memphis—13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game—don’t tell the whole story of his contributions to the franchise, which has found stability at the point guard spot and has become a perennial playoff team just like the Hawks. Unlike the Hawks with Horford and the Thunder with Durant, Memphis will benefit from further continuity from their successful 2007 draft pick after re-signing Conley to a long-term contract this offseason. The Grizzlies also deserve credit for being patient with Conley during a few leaner years for team and player alike earlier in his career, allowing Memphis to maximize its asset in the long run.

5. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green (traded to Seattle for Ray Allen)

Grade for Boston: A+

Grade for Seattle (now Oklahoma City): B+ 

This one gets a bit complicated. The Celtics drafted Green and then traded him as part of a package to get Ray Allen, who teamed with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to win a championship in the star trio’s first season together. Just for that one championship, the trade was well worth it for Boston, especially because Green—while not a bust—has never developed into a star. You also can’t blame the Thunder (then Supersonics) for that trade, given that Allen didn’t fit into the team’s youth/rebuilding movement at the time. Green had a few productive seasons as part of the Thunder’s core before they traded him—ironically, to Boston—for center Kendrick Perkins, who had an up-and-down tenure with OKC but was part of their team that reached the 2012 NBA Finals. A Finals appearance isn’t a championship, so the Celtics won the 2007 trade. The question for the Thunder is, could they have gotten more for Ray Allen?

6. Milwaukee Bucks: Yi Jianlian

Grade: D

Perhaps looking for the next Yao Ming, Milwaukee gambled on Chinese big man Yi, who only played one season for the Bucks and five seasons in the NBA (with career averages of 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game). A safer big man choice for Milwaukee in this draft could’ve been Joakim Noah, who was coming off back-to-back national championships with the Florida Gators, or even Spencer Hawes. They did display some courage with the Yi pick, so for that, they avoid an F grade.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Corey Brewer

Grade: B-

The lanky Brewer, though not a star, did turn into a good role player and defender at the swingman positions. Unfortunately for Minnesota, his skills were ultimately more valuable to a contender than to a rebuilding franchise. But when you look at the players selected after him, you can’t really say the Wolves missed out on much by choosing Brewer.

8. Charlotte Bobcats: Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson)

Grade for Charlotte: C

Grade for Golden State: C

In another trade within the 2007 draft’s top 10, both teams weren’t vastly affected. The Bobcats wanted an established scorer and got one in Richardson, though he didn’t translate into more wins and was traded again in just his second year with Charlotte. The Warriors, coming off an epic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, couldn’t find enough minutes and touches for all their wing scorers, so they dealt one of them for what they hoped would be added dimensions of defense and athleticism in their frontcourt. But Wright, the high-upside North Carolina product, could never stay healthy. You can’t blame either team for their logic in making the trade, but the move just didn’t move the needle for anyone.

9. Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Grade: A

Like Durant and Horford, Noah left the only team he had played for in free agency this summer. But also like Durant and Horford, he spent nine season as the heart and soul of a franchise. Chicago scored a couple of top seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but not a Finals appearance, during the Noah era—largely thanks to the center’s defensive intensity and all-around game. Like former Bulls teammate and now Knicks teammate Derrick Rose, Noah was eventually derailed by injuries. But his time with Chicago will be remembered fondly, and he was a good value pick at No. 9.

10. Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes

Grade: C+

The offensive-minded big man spent three mildly productive seasons in Sacramento (peaking at 11.4 points and 7 rebounds a game in year two) before the Kings traded him to Philadelphia. He has never averaged more than 13.5 points per game, but has improved his 3-point shot over time, making him a potential asset coming off the bench for contending teams. The center the Kings traded him for, Sam Dalembert, was an improvement on the defensive end but only spent one season in Sacramento. Perhaps the Kings could’ve gotten more out of the Hawes pick.


27. Arron Afflalo: The 3-and-D shooting guard started slow but has ended up with a productive career, averaging 11.6 points per game and 38.5 percent shooting from deep for five teams. Joined his sixth team, Sacramento, this offseason.

28. Tiago Splitter: In typical Spurs fashion, San Antonio found a solid international player with a relatively low draft pick. The Brazilian center started for the Spurs’ 2013-14 championship team, but was eventually traded to Atlanta to make room for the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge.

31. Carl Landry: This journeyman power forward can score—10.8 points in 22.5 minutes per game for his career—but has seen his relevance drop in recent years with losing teams in Sacramento and Philadelphia.

35. Glen Davis: “Big Baby” won a championship with Boston as a rookie and contributed to subsequent contending Celtics squads, including 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2010-11, before he was traded to Orlando for Brandon Bass in a lateral move for both teams. The rest of his career was plagued by injuries.

48. Marc Gasol: The true hidden gem of this draft was an afterthought while getting traded to Memphis as part of a package for his own brother, Pau. But the younger Gasol’s career is hardly an afterthought, as Marc developed into one of the best two-way centers in the league, a franchise cornerstone for the Grizzlies, and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.


A good draft pick can change a franchise—even if the player eventually leaves

Durant (Thunder), Horford (Hawks), and Noah (Bulls) all left their teams in 2016 free agency, leaving the squads that drafted them with nothing in return. But they all gave their initial franchises nine solid years and changed the cultures of those teams for the better. The Thunder, Hawks, and Bulls are all better off for having those players—even in their current absence. In that sense, free agency departures years later don’t re-write the history of a good draft pick.

It’s no longer a big man’s league

What if Greg Oden actually stayed healthy? Would he have been the right pick over Durant? Doubtful. During Oden’s brief time on the court, he showed glimpses of potential, but nothing near the superstardom of KD. Durant, as it turns out, would have been a better pick for the Blazers not just because of his health, but because of his significance as an elite wing scorer in an era that has increasingly de-emphasized offensively challenged big men like Oden.

Time can heal the wounds of a bad draft pick

Yes, the Blazers were set back by choosing Oden over Durant, but nine years later they’re in essentially the same position as the team that scored KD. Portland weathered the free agency loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to make a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs this past season. Oklahoma City, coming off a Conference Finals appearance, lost Durant to Golden State and now actually seems to be in the same boat as Portland talent-wise. That being said, not picking Durant in 2007 is still a haunting “What if?” scenario for the Blazers.

Carmelo Anthony is not the Michael Phelps of Olympic basketball

Carmelo Anthony competes for USA Basketball in 2012
When it comes to individual legacies in basketball, the yardstick is Michael Jordan. In swimming, the yardstick is Michael Phelps. We already know that Carmelo Anthony is no Jordan. But lately, the legacy conversation he has entered has more to do with Phelps.

Let me explain. Phelps has used the 2016 Rio Olympics to surpass 20 career gold medals between individual and relay races, strengthening his case as the greatest Olympian ever (we won’t get into any debates here regarding how swimming provides Phelps with more medal opportunities than elite Olympians in other sports). Anthony, meanwhile, on Wednesday became the all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history with a 31-point performance—including nine 3-pointers—in the Americans’ tougher-than-expected 98-88 win over Australia. 


Carmelo Anthony the All Star


Carmelo is a perennial NBA All-Star and an elite scorer, averaging nearly 25 points a game during his 13-year career. The Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks built their teams around him. But Anthony’s individual statistical success hasn’t been met with team success in the playoffs. His squads have advanced to the second round just twice and to the Conference Finals once, and never to the NBA Finals. He isn’t done yet, but as things currently stand, Carmelo’s NBA legacy places him on a level below his fellow 2003 NBA Draft superstars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Carmelo’s legacy—for now—is akin to stars like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who have been elite players at their positions but haven’t won championships.


Melo's International Olympic Legacy


But during the Rio Olympic Games, some NBA commentators are beginning to argue that Carmelo’s status as the elder statesmen of USA Basketball might elevate his basketball legacy. He’s a leading NBA talent but an even better talent as a power forward in international basketball, the logic goes, given how larger players can’t adequately defend him at the 4 spot and how he can still guard them at the other end of the floor. What results is the ultimate mismatch—a mismatch that produces results like Anthony’s 37 points in 14 minutes against Nigeria at the 2012 London Olympics, and his clutch performance this week to help Team USA avoid an upset against Australia. Given his dominance while playing alongside fellow NBA superstars at the Olympics, the commentators believe that the international game might not just enhance, but also define Carmelo’s basketball legacy. After all, there’s a Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, not just an NBA Hall of Fame. 

Is the argument valid? Not in this commentator’s opinion. Tim Duncan won five NBA championships and no Olympic gold medals. Anthony is on the verge of his third Olympic gold, but has no NBA championships and isn’t expected to win one anytime soon. Is there anyone who’s going to argue that Anthony’s basketball legacy is superior or even equal to Duncan’s?


NBA Championships vs Olympic Basketball


I’ll remember NBA stars for what they did in the NBA, not at the Olympics. For USA Basketball, winning the gold is not just an accomplishment. It’s a requirement—given the American roster’s superior talent from top to bottom, anything less than gold is considered a huge failure. That was the case in Athens for the 2004 American hoops team, which lost three games and settled for a bronze medal. Anthony, by the way, was part of that team. That doesn’t necessarily tarnish his international basketball legacy, because he played a small role on the 2004 squad and a much larger role on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal-winning American teams as well as on this year’s team. Yet his Olympic basketball prowess doesn’t change anything about his failure, thus far, to deliver an NBA championship. The competition is much tougher in the NBA, and on that stage, Carmelo is a flawed superstar.


Melo vs Phelps


In swimming, the Olympics are the highest level of competition and gold medals there are the highest honor in the sport. The same can’t be said for what Olympic basketball means in the context of basketball in general. That’s why Michael Phelps is the gold standard in swimming, and it’s why Carmelo’s accomplishments at the Olympics are notable but shouldn’t be overstated. If he wants to re-write his basketball legacy, Carmelo needs to win more at the highest level.

2009 NBA Draft: Positions still matter

The Clippers (Blake Griffin), Warriors (Stephen Curry), and Raptors (DeMar Derozan) got franchise cornerstones. So did the Thunder with James Harden, but they eventually traded him away in a much-maligned move. Minnesota controversially stocked up on point guards, and unfortunately for the Wolves, none of those point guards were named Steph Curry.

Seven years later, we look back on the 2009 NBA Draft—grading the top 10 picks, identifying the hidden gems, and reflecting on some lessons we learned.


2009 NBA Draft Grades: TOP 10 PICKS


1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin

Grade: A

Griffin missed his first season due to injury, but once healthy he became an instant stud in the Clippers’ frontcourt, electrifying fans with his dunking and posting 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game in six seasons. He has the chance to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. Griffin was the conventional pick for the Clippers and has lived up to the hype, even if his star doesn’t shine as bright as that of the top player in this draft, Curry. Some criticize his game for having more style than substance, but together with Chris Paul he has elevated the Clippers to relevance…just not further than the second round of the playoffs.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet

Grade: F

The 7-foot-3 big man was a certified bust, putting up paltry stats in just a season and a half in Memphis and never catching on in subsequent stops in Houston, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Even worse, the Grizzlies chose Thabeet despite having their current star center, Marc Gasol, already on the roster. Memphis still become a perennial playoff team, but missed the chance to become an even stronger contender by striking out on the second overall pick.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden

Grade: A

Before becoming the superstar he is today, Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year and made it to an NBA Finals with the Thunder. Attempting to avoid the luxury tax, OKC dealt The Beard to Houston for a package of players and picks that yielded only one valuable contributor for the Thunder—defensive-minded center Steven Adams. Like Griffin, Harden isn’t quite the superstar that Curry is, but he’s an elite all-around player (on the offensive end) and was the right pick for OKC’s emerging young core at the time. So for the pick itself, they get an A. In trading Harden three years later, the Thunder misjudged the future spike in the NBA salary cap. Looking back, the big bucks they paid to retain big man Enes Kanter in restricted free agency could’ve gone to Harden. At least they salvaged Adams, who is likely their starting 5 for years to come, from a draft pick they received in the Harden deal.

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans

Grade: B-

Evans showed great potential as a tall point guard in his first season, averaging solid all-around numbers of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game. With Blake Griffin injured, he even won the Rookie of the Year award. Yet Evans peaked early, maintaining decent all-around stats throughout his seven seasons but never surpassing his rookie campaign. After four seasons, Sacramento shipped him to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade deal that netted no major pieces for the Kings. Though the 2009 draft pick looked good at first, Sacramento might’ve been better off choosing a more pure distributing point guard.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio

Grade: B

The Spanish point guard spent two more years overseas before joining the Wolves. Once in the NBA, he instantly became an effective and entertaining distributor at the 1, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never improved his weak shooting. Minnesota scores some points on the draft grade for still retaining Rubio today. Even though drafting point guard Kris Dunn with their latest selection means the franchise is essentially pulling the plug on the Rubio experiment, Rubio is a tradable asset on a reasonable contract (4 years, $56 million).

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn

Grade: F

After choosing Rubio, the Wolves shockingly selected another point guard one pick later. Too bad it wasn’t Curry, who enters the next NBA season as the two-time defending league MVP. Curry’s historically great 3-point shooting would look pretty good next to the shooting-deficient Rubio in Minnesota’s backcourt right now, wouldn’t it? Flynn got to start as a rookie while Rubio stayed overseas, averaging 13.5 points a game that season but quickly flaming out in his second year—even before Rubio arrived to take his place. Perhaps it’s too easy to blast the Wolves for not choosing Curry. Their real mistake was picking point guards with back-to-back selections (not to mention another 1, Ty Lawson, with the 18th pick before trading him to Denver). Getting help at a different position would’ve been the sensible thing to do.

7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

Grade: A+

Two MVPs, one championship, the best regular season in NBA history, and possibly already the best shooter in league history after only seven seasons. Need we say more? Oh right, forgot one thing…he’s making $12 million this coming season. That’s $3 million less than Timofey Mozgov.

8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill

Grade: D-

With their fans demoralized after missing out on Curry by one spot, there isn’t much the Knicks could’ve done here to soften the blow. It was true on draft night and it’s even more true seven years later, given how Curry’s career has played out. Jordan Hill is far from exciting, but he has developed into a decent role player in this league at either frontcourt position. It’s hard to give the Knicks an F because they didn’t choose to miss out on Curry. But the minus attached to their D is for trading him just 24 games into his New York career. Hill wouldn’t have been the Knicks’ game-changer, but dealing with so quickly means they got nothing from this pick.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar Derozan

Grade: A

The swingman has averaged 18 points a game in seven years with the Raptors, including a career-high 23.5 last season. The franchise locked him up for the long run with a new contract this summer, following an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking back, there wasn’t a better player than Derozan selected after the ninth pick in 2009, so there’s no criticizing any aspect of this choice for the Raptors.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings

Grade: A-

Like Tyreke Evans, Jennings didn’t see much progress after his productive rookie season (15.5 points, 5.7 assists per game). Most disconcerting is a .390 shooting percentage for his career. So what earns the Bucks an A- grade here? After four seasons, they turned Jennings into Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton in a sign-and-trade deal with the Pistons. They later turned Knight into Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee. The jury is still out on Carter-Williams and Plumlee, but Middleton is now a fixture in the Bucks’ starting lineup as a solid 3-point shooter with great size (6-foot-8) at either swingman position.




19. Jeff Teague: 12.1 points and 5.2 assists per game for his career; traded to Indiana in the offseason after previously playing only for Atlanta, the team that drafted him.

21. Darren Collison: Another productive point guard in this point guard-rich draft; 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game while alternating between starting and backup roles; should start in Sacramento this season after Rajon Rondo departed in free agency.

23. Omri Casspi: The Israeli forward bounced around the league for a few years but returned to the Kings, the team that drafted him, and just enjoyed his best season (11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point range).

26. Taj Gibson: 9.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for his career—so far all with Chicago—while alternating starting and backup roles; this will be a contract year for the power forward, and his time with the retooling Bulls may soon come to an end.

27. DeMarre Carroll: 3-and-D small forward who bounced around the league before breaking out as a starter in his fifth and sixth seasons, including a campaign of 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during the Hawks’ surprise 60-win season in 2014-15; cashed in with a long-term contract in Toronto.

42. Patrick Beverley: Now entrenched as the starting point guard in Houston; won’t stuff the stat sheet, but is a pesky defender and decent 3-point shooter (37.3 percent for career).

46. Danny Green: After one season in Cleveland, found a long-term home in San Antonio and turned himself into the Spurs’ starter at shooting guard, nailing 40.3 percent for his career from 3-point range and hitting a scorching 55 percent from deep in the 2013 Finals against Miami; won a title in a 2014 Finals rematch with the Heat.

55. Patty Mills: Another point guard and another Spurs’ mainstay; plays a starring role on Australia’s national team and a solid backup role in the NBA; 10.2 points in less than 20 minutes per game during San Antonio’s 2013-14 title campaign; 39-percent shooter from 3 for his career.




Positions matter

Versatility is highly valued in today’s NBA, the Warriors have dominated the league with an unconventional small-ball “Death Lineup,” and teams are often advised to draft the “best player available regardless of position. But the 2009 draft reminds us that conventional NBA positions exist for a reason and that positional fits shouldn’t be completely ignored in the draft. The Grizzlies were enticed by Hasheem Thabeet’s size even though Marc Gasol was already showing flashes of being their long-term answer at center. Minnesota’s stunning selection of back-to-back point guards is probably the most memorable—and infamous—moment of this draft. If one of those selections were Steph Curry, the Wolves inefficient drafting could have been forgiven. But as it stands, they passed up a transformational superstar for not one, but two lesser players at the same position, while failing to help their roster at multiple spots.

Continuity matters

While player movement is all the rage in the NBA offseason and at the February trade deadline, the 2009 draft produced some stars who have bucked that trend. For Curry and Golden State, Griffin and Los Angeles, and Derozan and Toronto, continuity has been a benefit for player and team alike. Curry’s Warriors won a title and built a superteam, while the Clippers and Raptors aren’t elite teams, but are consistent playoff contenders with the help of Griffin and Derozan.

Don’t judge a player by his rookie season

Tyreke Evans looked like a star as a rookie, but never progressed. The same goes for Brandon Jennings. Curry was also solid as a rookie (17.5 points and 5.9 assists per game), yet nobody could have imagined the scope of his current superstardom. Jordan Hill looked like a bust with the Knicks, who swiftly traded him, but he turned into a serviceable big man. Danny Green and Patty Mills looked irrelevant as rookies in Cleveland and Portland, respectively, but became valuable contributors with San Antonio.

Portland Trail Blazers pay a premium for the status quo

8491872236_00098af61f_oAllen Crabbe: 4 years, $75 million.

Evan Turner: 4 years, $70 million.

Moe Harkless: 4 years, $42 million.

Meyers Leonard: 4 years, $41 million.

Another 4 or 5 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs: Priceless?

That’s the Portland Trail Blazers’ offseason in a nutshell. They paid a premium for continuity—and possibly for the same result next season and beyond.

Make no mistake, the Blazers were one of the 2015-16 NBA season’s feel-good stories. They lost elite power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio in free agency. Most assumed the loss would be a crippling blow for Portland and that the team would go into rebuilding mode, but instead, the franchise rebuilt on the fly. Actually, they made the second round of the playoffs—one round further than they advanced the previous season with Aldridge.

But that playoff result is slightly deceiving. Yes, Portland’s 5 seed in last year’s Western Conference was still a nice accomplishment, but would they have beaten the favored 4th-seeded LA Clippers in the first round without the injuries to Clippers’ stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Probably not.

Then comes the offseason. Let’s first acknowledge that almost every free agent was “overpaid” this summer because the salary cap ballooned from $70 million to $94 million. Huge salaries for seemingly average players is the new normal in this league. Still, it’s puzzling for the Blazers to commit that kind of money to Crabbe, Turner, Harkless, and Leonard—all of whom might be backups on their team this coming season. Turner, a decent all-around player but a mediocre shooter, might start at small forward if he can wrestle away that spot from the Blazers’ starting 3 from last season, Al-Farouq Aminu. That seems like a toss-up to me. Leonard, a stretch 4 who can also play center, started 10 of the 61 games he played for Portland last season. Crabbe is entrenched as C.J. McCollum’s backup at shooting guard; Portland chose to match Brooklyn's massive offer to the restricted free agent. Harkless is likely the team’s 3rd-string small forward behind Aminu and Turner (although Aminu might play some minutes at power forward). 

Among those signings, Turner is the only newcomer to Portland’s roster. Another newcomer, center Festus Ezeli, was actually brought in on a much more reasonable contract of two years and $15 million. But none of these players—the additions or the retentions—are game-changers. I can’t question the four year, $106 million extension the Blazers just gave McCollum, who averaged 20.8 points per game last season while earning the league’s Most Improved Player award. He's their second-best player, behind Damian Lillard, and a major building block for their future. But the totality of Portland’s offseason feels like nothing more than a lateral move for this coming season and a detriment to the franchise’s future salary cap flexibility.

The Warriors and Spurs are widely presumed to be the West’s top two teams for next season. While the Thunder are likely to take a step back after Kevin Durant’s departure, the Clippers—with Paul and Griffin returning from their injuries—are the third-best team on paper. Portland’s ceiling looks like the 4 seed. They were the 5 seed last year, the 4 seed (as a divisional winner with the conference’s 5th-best record) in 2014-15, and the 5 seed in 2013-14. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and crack the West's top 3, but on the surface it seems that all they did this offseason was spend a whole lot to maintain the status quo both short-term and long-term. If I were the Blazers’ GM, I would’ve signed some cheaper backups and maintained more long-term flexibility—possibly to attract another star to complement McCollum and Lillard as the franchise cornerstones.

STAT had better stats with Suns, but retires as a Knick

7949834062_164ba92e16_oAmar'e Stoudemire, otherwise known as STAT, retired Tuesday after 14 NBA seasons. Given that his last five years were significantly derailed by injuries, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. It was somewhat surprising, though, to see Stoudemire sign a symbolic contract with the New York Knicks in order to retire with that team. After all, STAT had his best stats with the Phoenix Suns.

Before the Knicks bought out his contract in February 2015, Stoudemire had an injury-plagued tenure with New York. After a stellar (and healthy) 2010-11 campaign featuring 25.3 points per game, including a memorable half season as the franchise’s savior before Carmelo Anthony arrived in a trade, Amar'e played only 47 of 82 games in 2011-12, 29 games in 2012-13, and 65 games in 2013-14—and even when he was on the court, his game failed to mesh with Anthony at the forward spots, foiling the Knicks’ vision of a superstar tandem to compete with Miami’s LeBron James-led Big 3. By all accounts, the Stoudemire era in New York can be seen as a failure—just not in the formerly explosive big man’s estimation.

"I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise, and we did just that," Stoudemire said Tuesday. "Carmelo, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year's acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

But NBA fans’ fondest memories of Amar’e should be his dominant years with the Suns. Rookie of the Year in 2002-3; 26 points and 8.9 rounds per game in 2004-5; 25.2 and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2007-8; 23.1 and 8.9 rebounds per game in 2009-10. He formed a scintillating inside-outside tandem with two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash in Mike D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less” offense, a precursor to the modern-day dominance of the Golden State Warriors’ high-octane attack. Like his Knicks’ tenture, Stoudemire’s eight years with the Suns didn’t come without injuries—he missed essentially the entire 2005-06 season. But the explosiveness he brought to the Phoenix frontcourt is the enduring memory.

As a stat geek, that’s how I’ll remember STAT—for his peak years with Phoenix. But Amar’e wants to shape his legacy differently. He wants to be remembered as the Knicks’ savior, even though his rescue mission got severely cut short by injuries. If he makes the Hall of Fame, it’ll be a minor coup for the New York fans.

How do you fix the NBA D-League? Call it Summer League

d-leagueLast week was a very weak sports week on TV.

Baseball was approaching its All-Star break, football season is in deep preview mode, and the Olympics are only starting later in the summer.

If you did happen to try and find compelling live sports last week, it was likely the NBA Summer League, whose games were airing around the clock on NBA TV. Even ESPN 2 got in on the action, airing live games when the scene shifted to Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, if you were following Twitter trends, you may have noticed both NBA free agency and key players in Summer League consistently breaking the social platform's barrier.

The truth is that the rise of the Summer League may be occurring due to the genuine increase in social NBA following and a lack of other compelling sports on TV.

The Summer League actually started in the 1990s and took place in UMass Boston's facilities. Back then, only a handful of teams participated, but you could see the potential of a great sports avenue take shape.

Since then, the Summer League has continued to expand, including stops in Orlando and Utah, with all 30 NBA teams participating in some way. But the real testament to the success of the Summer League is the national attention. Never before in its existence was every Summer League game readily available live on cable TV.

Let's compare this progress to the NBADL—the NBA's developmental league, better known as the D-League. The past few seasons, NBA TV has aired several live D-League games, but with poor ratings. According to Nielsen, the ratings for those D-League games were so low nationally, they typically don't register a decimal point and are rounded to 0.0.

The fact is that the D-League has an extremely tough hurdle the Summer League doesn't need to face: timing. The D-League is literally competing with the NBA regular season, scheduling games aligning with their top-tier counterpart's schedule. What fan would tune in for a Westchester Knicks game over a New York Knicks game? It's simply not a fair fight.

Meanwhile, basketball junkies don't have an outlet in the summer. They pound the rumor mills over trades and free agency, hoping for both the next Durant or even Mozgov storylines until they get their next fix. The Summer League falls down from the heavens like manna at a time they miss basketball the most.

Another key difference between both leagues is talent. Typically, the majority of all rookies as well as a decent chunk of second-year talent, international hopefuls, and blasts from the past (hello Aaron Craft) compete for their NBA lives in the Summer League. It's the best form of reality TV. Compare that to the D-League, where the salaries and exposure are low, so you get guys who haven't made an NBA squad for some time and are still hopeful, but not good enough to play internationally. Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, who played in the 2016 Summer League, would be the D-League's best player of all time.

So what can the NBA do? Consider turning the D-League into the Summer League. Imagine it—you make sure each NBA team is represented, keep the current D-League team locations, and each team would be filled with their affiliated NBA team's rookie class from the last two years among other NBA hopefuls. The league could run from July 1st to October 10th and be a mini NBA season, or roughly 40 games.

NBA teams could then stagger their rookie minutes accordingly, depending on who they want to see more development from and who could use more rest. For example, a team like Boston may not want to play incoming 3rd overall pick Jaylen Brown 30-plus minutes a night for 40 games, and instead could ensure that guys like James Young and RJ Hunter are tested more over the grind of a mimicked grueling season.

Additionally, the NBA could place stipulations on who is eligible to play in this new D-League/Summer League hybrid, to ensure that teams don't abuse the system. For example, the rosters could be limited to guys who have played two consecutive NBA seasons or less, and/or a minutes constraint could be tied to league eligibility, preventing those who have already logged plenty of NBA minutes from participating.

I would suspect that this revised league would take off immediately. Games would count a bit more, fans would get a genuine sneak peek on incoming young talent, and the social buzz would be through the roof. Odds are that both the ABC and Turner television networks would be all over broadcasting these contests.

The best part is it would give all NBA fans that extended summer outlet and ensure year-round basketball. Such a move could even propel the NBA further and make it the most-watched league in the U.S., a spot currently occupied by the NFL.

The current system is in place to mimic baseball's minor league system. When the NBA created the D-League, it envisioned a possibility for teams to randomly call up and call down players over the course of the season. That honestly doesn't happen nearly as much as it does in baseball, and those same NBA teams are likely to still call up said talent even without the prospect of the D-League. A better route is giving some of those players more exposure for a potential promotion down the line, whether that comes in the NBA or internationally.

There's really no way this idea would fail. The NBA has an opportunity to take advantage of the full calendar year and dominate this country. Adam Silver: make this switch and you'll be considered the greatest commissioner of all time.

10 trade scenarios for Russell Westbrook: Part 1

westbrookWe’ve already established that the Thunder, based on the past experience of missing the playoffs with a team led by Russell Westbrook and missing an injured Kevin Durant, would be best-served by trading Westbrook for multiple assets to launch their post-Durant era. We’ve also established that Oklahoma City will get the best package in return for Westbrook now, during the NBA offseason, as opposed to February’s trade deadline, when they’d be perceived as a more desperate negotiating partner. So without further ado, here are five offseason trade scenarios for Westbrook. And in the event that the Thunder can’t strike a deal now, my next post will offer five potential Westbrook trade scenarios for the trade deadline.

Los Angeles Lakers get: Russell Westbrook

Thunder get: D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Nick Young

Westbrook goes to his hometown team in southern California, and the Lakers would probably be confident about re-signing him next offseason. The Lakers satisfy their fans by getting a proven superstar for the post-Kobe era, rather than taking the risk that Russell and Ingram—the last two second-overall picks in the NBA Draft—don’t develop into “Westbrook-caliber” players. The Thunder assume that risk instead, but the upside is huge for them here. In fact, Ingram has drawn comparisons to none other than…Kevin Durant. If I’m Thunder GM Sam Presti, I make this deal in a heartbeat. 

Are the Lakers giving up too much? Maybe so. But offloading Young, who just earned himself some renewed infamy by picking up an exploding firework, might be an added bonus for LA. And given the huge contracts they gave Timofey Mozgov (4 years, $64 million) and Luol Deng (4 years, $72 million) this offseason, their chances of signing Westbrook as a free agent without trading for him beforehand are not as clear as they once were.

Boston Celtics get: Westbrook

Thunder get: Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round draft pick

Boston adds another star to pair with newly signed big man Al Horford, instantly becoming the top challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Oklahoma City gets two talented and complementary point guards—a solid defender in Smart, a top scorer in Thomas—to replace Westbrook, while Crowder slides into Durant’s small forward spot. The Brooklyn Nets’ pick (owned by Boston) is widely expected to fall in the next draft’s top 5—and Presti built the Thunder’s Westbrook/Durant-led core through the draft, after all. 

It’s another great package for OKC, but can Boston be confident about re-signing Westbrook next offseason? Let’s say the Celtics make the NBA Finals, or even just the conference finals—is that enough to assure themselves of retaining Westbrook. Per NBA salary cap rules, they’d be able to sign him to a larger contract than any team he’d leave for, but Westbrook would still likely listen offers from the big-market teams in New York and LA. It’s a very risky proposition for Boston, especially given all the assets they’d surrender.

Minnesota Timberwolves get: Westbrook

Thunder get: Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio

After two seasons, the jury is still out on Wiggins, the top pick in the 2014 draft—but I can’t envision a more talented successor to Durant at the Thunder’s 3 spot. Rubio is talented but flawed at the 1—a strong distributor, but a weak shooter and injury prone. But at the worst, Rubio splits time in OKC with another young point guard, Cameron Payne (and initially, he probably gets more playing time than Payne). I do this deal if I’m the Thunder. But for Minnesota, inserting Westbrook into a rising young core including big man Karl-Anthony Towns, guard Zach LaVine, and rookie Kris Dunn is enticing. Speaking of Dunn, Minnesota might need to follow up by trading him because he plays the same position as Westbrook—that is, if the Wolves think traditionally rather than outside the box about their lineup. 

Either way, the move catapults the Timberwolves into instant relevance—as things stand, they have the NBA’s longest playoff drought (12 seasons). But should they disrupt what is already a promising young collection of talent? And like Boston, can they even re-sign Westbrook in 2017? They might consider trying out Westbrook for half a season and seeing if they become a contender. If they don’t contend, and it they don’t like their chances of retaining him as a free agent, they can trade him at the deadline. But would they get a package that’s better than what they gave up for Westbrook in the first place? It might just be too much trouble for Minnesota.

Sacramento Kings get: Westbrook, Enes Kanter

Thunder get: DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison

Like Minnesota, Sacramento could become relevant again by acquiring Westbrook. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs for a decade—a drought that trails only Minnesota’s. After Cousins tweeted “Lord give me the strength” in response to their relatively unknown 2016 draft pick, Greek center Georgios Papagiannis, the Kings may benefit from moving on from the malcontent Cousins as their franchise player. So why would the Thunder do this deal? Cousins, like Westbrook, is a statistical giant at his position—26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game last season. “Boogie” might also benefit from a change of scenery. The Thunder get a new star (at least on paper) who’s under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable total of $32 million. They could even offer to extend his contract now in exchange for raises the next two seasons, like the Rockets just did with James Harden. OKC gets to offload the remaining three years and $54 million on Kanter’s contract—let’s face it, they matched Portland’s huge offer to the one-dimensional big man last year to avoid losing an asset amid their effort to retain Durant, who’s gone now. OKC also replaces Durant and Westbrook with Gay and Collison—they aren’t overwhelming, but they’d be at least serviceable at the team’s 1 and 3 spots for now. 

Yet again, we arrive at the most important sticking point of any Westbrook deal: Can the Kings retain him in free agency? Conventional wisdom says they can’t. But like Minnesota, Sacramento can experiment with Westbrook on their team for half a season, and if they don’t make the jump to contender status, trade him at the deadline. Because honestly, they’re the Sacramento Kings. They haven’t made the playoffs for a decade and their existing young core isn’t as exciting as Minnesota’s. Why not take a risk? How much worse can things get for your team, anyway?

New Orleans Pelicans get: Westbrook

Thunder get: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, 2017 and 2019 first-round draft picks

It seems that throughout this offseason, nobody has even once uttered the words “Anthony Davis.” That’s right, after an injury-plagued 2015-16 season that ended without a playoff appearance for the Pelicans, a big man many regard as a top 5 NBA player is suddenly irrelevant. So what about pairing him with Westbrook, another top 5 player in this league, and seeing for at least half a season what your new 1-2 punch can do? Like Minnesota or Sacramento, if it doesn’t work out and you seemed destined to lose Westbrook in free agency, you can trade him at the deadline. A superstar pairing like Davis and Westbrook might be worth a roll of the dice, even if it’s just a “big 2” rather than teams’ usual goal of becoming a contender by building a “big 3.”

The Thunder, meanwhile, replace Westbrook at point guard with a decent option in Holiday—16.8 points and 6 assists per game last season (though Holiday, like Westbrook, is a free agent in 2017). Hield would need to battle for minutes at shooting guard with newly acquired Victor Oladipo, but the Oklahoma college star would give the Thunder an instant fan favorite after Durant’s departure. Those OKC fans could use a morale boost, right? The future draft picks sweeten the deal, though it’s unclear how high those picks would be. If New Orleans retain Westbrook in the long run, they might be late first-rounders. If they don’t retain him and/or trade him midseason, OKC gets more value out of those picks. That’s the gamble. But ultimately, this particular package of assets may not be enough to entice the Thunder.

Do any of these deals happen?

The most realistic and mutually beneficial proposal here is Westbrook to the Lakers. LA has a great chance of retaining him, and OKC gets two young players with significant upside in D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Maybe it isn’t too crazy for the Thunder to dream that five years now, those two might become the next…Westbrook and Durant. In that case, the Lakers would lose such a deal in the long run, but they couldn’t be criticized too much for acquiring a proven homegrown superstar like Westbrook for players who, at the time, were largely unproven.

That said, the Lakers should stay put for now. They’re likely to get a better deal for Westbrook at the trade deadline, when the Thunder are more desperate.

As far as the other proposed deals go, the common theme is: Can those teams retain Westbrook long-term, and is a half-season or full-season rental without such an assurance worth the risk? For Sacramento and New Orleans, I’d take the risk. The Kings stand much to gain and honestly, they don’t have much to lose. A Davis-Westbrook experiment is too enticing for the Pelicans to pass up, especially for the moderate price they’re paying. But are the Thunder getting back enough in my proposals with Sacramento and New Orleans? Chances are they say no.

If I’m Minnesota or Boston, I don’t do the proposed deals…at least not in the offseason. The Timberwolves’ core might have more upside as currently constituted than it would after they exchanged multiple assets for Westbrook. The Celtics—as my colleague Eitan Rosenberg has argued here—are already in good position to become a contender in the East and shouldn’t rush into a big trade just for the sake of dealing, especially without an assurance that Westbrook would re-sign. Like the Lakers, or any of the other teams discussed here, Boston can get a better for Westbrook in February. That’s why you should stay tuned for Part 2 of this column…five trade scenarios for Westbrook at the trade deadline.

Big move or not, the Celtics are closer to contending than you think

averyAll the talk surrounding the 2016 NBA Draft was on Boston Celtics executive Danny Ainge and what he might do with the third overall pick. Pundits were saying the draft didn't start until we all knew where Ainge was standing at 3. Of course, without much fanfare, he delivered a surprise by selecting Jaylen Brown.

The outcry came immediately. Everyone from bloggers to ESPN regulars were dubbing the selection, and the overall failure of Ainge to pull off a major deal, as colossal failures. The perception was that Ainge simply had too many picks (eight in the 2016 draft alone) to warrant keeping all those assets. By not exchanging his change for paper money, the thought was that Ainge missed out on an opportunity.

Before we jump right into Boston's current roster, check back on last year, and determine the team's current trajectory, let's squash that notion that the team's 2016 draft night was a failure.

Going into the draft, GMs seemed to be playing a giant game of chicken. Everyone knew a team like the 76ers, for example, needed to move Jahlil Okafor and, it was assumed, the same could be said about a deal involving the Celtics consolidating their picks. So, the dance began. Sixers exec Bryan Colangelo would gauge Ainge's intentions and start with offering Okafor for the 3 pick. Ainge would try to get him off that stubborn stance, and the two execs would be at a standstill. The same thing happened with Chicago, who reportedly wanted the 2017 and 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round picks (both of which Boston owns) for Jimmy Butler. Ainge stood firm, maintaining that he didn't simply want to squander assets for the sake of forcing a deal that would have netted Boston an unfair return.

You don't need to do a deal just to do a deal.

In fact, by adding Jaylen Brown, the Celtics may have the greatest collection of defensive  perimeter talent since the '90s Bulls or late '80s "Bad Boys" Pistons. Sure, get your laugh in, but consider that Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder are all top 5 defensively at their respective positions (1-3), and that the incoming Brown is the embodiment of the modern pick-and-roll stopping talent. This team will create more turnovers than Kupel's Bakery.

The Celtics are also coming off a season in which they were one win away from having the East's 3 seed. They finished in a four-way tie for the conference's third-best record, but ended up with the 5 seed in the tiebreaker. They faced an Atlanta Hawks team with personnel that encompassed the worst-possible matchup for them. Yes, while Boston's perimeter defense is top notch, their interior defense and rebounding are works in progress—to be generous.

The Hawks' Al Horford/Paul Millsap tandem annihilated Boston on the glass, and the team simply couldn't make up the difference of roughly 10 additonal possessions per game. But as the old saying goes, "If you can't beat them, take their best player." Obviously there's no such saying, but by signing Horford this offseason, the Celtics have significantly upgraded their rebounding and defensive presence up front. In addition to his defense and rebounding, Horford gives Boston a bona-fide post presence who is unselfish in isolation sets and can bring opposing bigs outside the paint with his ability to hit the 3 ball.

In terms of other Eastern Conference teams that were part of the tight race for the 2-6 seeds, all of them lost a key rotational piece without making any significant gains. Toronto lost Bismack Biyambo. Miami lost Dwyane Wade. Atlanta lost Horford and Jeff Teague. Charlotte lost Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee. All of those losses will hurt those teams. Behind Boston in last year's standings, Indiana and Orlando did make significant gains, and Detroit should improve organically; still, those three squads are about a season away from title contention in their respective divisions.

While the Celtics should be optimistic, they should also continue to be patient. Besides owning Brooklyn's 2017 and 2018 first-round picks, they are already seeing strong progress from Terry Rozier, RJ Hunter, and James Young in the NBA Summer League. They simply should not be in a rush to make a monster move. But I would advocate for seemingly minor moves.

Boston has a unique opportunity to zig while everyone else zags. Other teams are focused on getting spacing and quicker bigs. Boston, meanwhile, is one of the few teams with the unique defensive personnel to stop a new-age team—did anyone play the Warriors better over the course of the regular season? All they really lack is an interior defensive presence next to Horford.

While LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook were critical factors in their teams' matchups with the Warriors in the playoffs, big men Steven Adams and Tristan Thompson were the true x-factors. Golden State simply had no answer for their prowess in the paint and on the glass. It's also noteworthy how significant Golden State's dip was without Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green in the lineup against Cleveland. The point is that interior defense is still a major component in today's NBA—one that execs are overlooking.

If the Celtics can add a pure interior defensive presence, you may be looking at one of the better defensive teams this league has ever seen. They could even acquire one without using a major asset.

Tyson Chandler is signed to a reasonable deal, and one would think the up-and-coming rebuilding Suns would be willing to move his contract for mediocre assets at this stage. But while Chandler may get Boston to the proverbial "next level" and comes with some valuable locker room experience, what Boston would really need to contend is his younger self: Hassan Whiteside.

It certainly seems far fetched now since he just signed a contract to return to Miami, but I'd suspect Whiteside to be on the market by next February's trade deadline. Miami will need to further rebuild and would probably want to clear cap in hopes of landing two marquee free agents in one coup next summer. Boston is one of the few teams that could give them the perfect package in such a venture. If Boston were able to acquire a talent like Whiteside without using the 2017 Brooklyn pick, they'd be in that upper echelon of contention.

Going into the season, the Celtics should test their current lineup of Kelly Olynyk/Horford/Crowder/Bradley/Isaiah Thomas with Smart/Rozier/Brown/Amir Johnson/Jonas Jerebko off the bench. Then I'd gauge the market as the season progresses and see if a team looking to rebuild possesses that interior defensive presence. Ideally, I'd hold onto the 2017 Brooklyn pick, unless for some miracle Utah's Rudy Gobert becomes available.

Besides Chandler and Whiteside, other trade candidates for an interior defensive presence include Milwaukee's John Henson, Minnesota's Gorgui Dieng, Philly's Nerlens Noel, New Orleans's Omer Asik (reluctantly), and Philly's Joel Embiid (not immediately, but if the Sixers can't land anyone for Okafor and Embiid garners a trade market after proving healthy and a force, Ainge can offer a package to help balance that roster for the future).

If the Celtics can continue to be patient and not force a trade, they'll be in prime position by next's February trade deadline. They won't even need to make a major deal to contend. Get excited Celtics nation!

The next Michael Jordan? What about the next Tim Duncan?

3299457410_eb020f576b_oEver since Michael Jordan retired—for the second of three times—in 1999, NBA fans and executives have been entranced by a perpetual search for the next Michael Jordan. He might have been staring them right in the face the entire time.

In debates about the most Jordanesque players of the post-Jordan era, the most commonly invoked names are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Bryant played the same shooting guard position as Jordan, won five championships, and was known for his killer instinct in the clutch. Upon retiring after this season, he finished with the third-most points in NBA history—right ahead of Jordan. But the fact that Bryant shared with spotlight with Shaquille O'Neal for his first three titled with the Lakers—or, one could argue, even took a backseat to the big fella—may detract from the feasibility of comparing him to Jordan. 

James, one of the most versatile and athletic players in league history, has won four MVP awards—three more than Kobe, one less than Jordan—and three championships. And he isn’t done. He just ended Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought, in his home state of Ohio, by overcoming the best regular season team in NBA history in an unprecedented comeback from a 3-games-to-1 NBA Finals deficit. But he’s often knocked for losing four times in the Finals, compared with Bryant’s 5-2 mark and Jordan’s sterling 6-0 Finals record.

Naturally, the perpetually under-the-radar Tim Duncan doesn’t enter the usual conversations about the “next Jordan.” He’s a big man, meaning that comparing him to wing players Jordan, Bryant, and James is essentially a comparison of apples and oranges. And his game isn’t quite as exciting to watch. But after Duncan on Monday announced his retirement after 19 NBA seasons, it’s time to give the “Big Fundamental” the recognition he deserves and often doesn’t receive. My colleague Eitan Rosenberg has noted that certain NBA players are so frequently discussed as being underrated that they become overrated, and then they’re so often touted as overrated that they become…underrated again. Well, I simply can’t remember a time during my two decades of NBA fanhood that Tim Duncan was “overrated.” No, he probably wasn’t the next Jordan. But he was arguably the most accomplished player of the post-Jordan era—yes, even more accomplished than Kobe and the unfinished career of LeBron.

In 19 seasons, Duncan averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game. The numbers are deflated by the 40-year-old’s statistical dip in recent years, including 8.6 points per game in his final season. He won five championships—including as San Antonio's best player (with all due respect to fellow Twin Tower David Robinson) in just his second season—and two MVPs. During the same period, fellow superstar big men Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki won just one championship apiece; by that measure, Duncan sets himself apart from Garnett and Nowitzki in the big man category more than Jordan outpaces Bryant and James in the pantheon of wing players.

The Spurs have 50 games or more for 17 consecutive seasons. What has enabled their remarkable run of sustained dominance? Duncan’s willingness to sacrifice. In his final season, he took a base salary of $5.3 million, while a declining Bryant was paid a league-high $25 million. San Antonio’s season ended in a disappointing second-round playoff loss, but the team won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season after it was able to sign Duncan’s de facto replacement, LaMarcus Aldridge, in free agency—all because Duncan’s sacrifice gave them the salary cap flexibility to do so.

Kobe’s Lakers, meanwhile, hampered by their aging superstar's massive contract, continued their descent with a 17-65 record this past season—the second-worst mark in the NBA. Unlike Kobe, who announced his impending retirement in the middle of the season, Duncan had no high-profile "farewell tour" and didn't announce his retirement until now—precisely because his team, unlike Kobe's, was a championship contender until the very end of his career. That's typical Duncan for you. Fair or not, I'll remember not only the high point of Kobe's career, but also the sour taste of the end. Duncan didn't ride off with the storybook ending of a championship, but his financial sacrifice ensured his team's success for years to come, while there's no telling how long the Lakers will take to rebuild.

With LeBron’s career still ongoing, the debate over the post-Jordan era’s top player comes down to Kobe and Duncan. The argument for both stars has merit, but what it comes down to for me is their relative contributions to their teams’ success. When the Spurs won their last title in 2014, the team’s best regular season player was arguably Tony Parker, while Kawhi Leonard won Finals MVP. But Duncan was indisputably the Spurs’ top player for their four other championships. Kobe was the undisputed alpha dog on only two of his five Lakers’ championship teams. Duncan got the last six years of David Robinson's career as well as solid supporting stars in Parker and Manu Ginobili, but he didn't get to play with another superstar in his prime, as Kobe did with Shaq. Their records in the Finals—5-2 for Kobe, 5-1 for Duncan—are essentially a wash. (Though the only thing standing between Duncan and a Jordanesque 6-0 Finals mark is Ray Allen’s miracle 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.) The Lakers had a three-peat, but also had their fair share of ups and downs during the Kobe era. Duncan’s Spurs never repeated as champs, yet the only sure things in life during his 19 NBA years were death, taxes, and 50 wins for San Antonio.

When I’m building an all-time starting five—based not only on player legacies, but also positional fits—I’m seriously considering Duncan for my power forward spot. Kobe, however, isn’t in consideration for the shooting guard spot already occupied by Jordan. It’s a close call, but I’m choosing Duncan as the top player of the post-Jordan era—just for now, because the final product of LeBron’s career may eclipse him.

But maybe we shouldn’t even be talking about Jordan, or finding the next Jordan. Maybe we should be asking: Who will be the next Tim Duncan?

Why Philly’s PG situation is BS—and I don’t mean Ben Simmons

Sam Hinkie resigned from tsimmonshe Philadelphia 76ers organization a bit prematurely. We all can recognize why he did it. It's one of those fairly classic work situations when the organization doesn't have the heart to fire an old-timer, but realizes a different direction is necessary. What do organizations do in these situations? They hire a new age of talent intended to supplement the work of the old-timer. After some time, however, the old-timer (if equipped with self-awareness) recognizes what's really happening around him. He sees the writing on the walls and resigns.

Of course, it's quicker and more efficient to just fire said old-timer. So why do organizations wait? To be frank, they don't want to look like a bunch of jerks.

This is the exact scenario that occurred with the Philadelphia 76ers…only it was the opposite. The organization, clearly bullied by the NBA and potentially other team execs, wanted to go in a different direction. The only difference is that their GM actually had a new age of thinking. Hinkie exploited the current system in the NBA. He understood the idiom of being in NBA purgatory: not good enough to contend and not bad enough to rebuild through the draft. He realized he had to choose one route to eventually field a contender.

Hinkie was an innovator with the guts to lead his team to defeat in hopes of future victory. In retrospect, while some of his draft day selections and deals can be questioned, his overall logic made and still does make sense.

But what did Philly decide to do? Let's force out the innovator and replace him with the old-timer. Insert Jerry and Bryan Colangelo: a duo dedicated to short-sighted development and quick wins, with the likely outcome of returning the Sixers to NBA purgatory.

All of Hinkie's strategy and planning led the franchise to 2016 draft day and the selection of Ben Simmons. The hope was the new father-son front office duo would not screw anything else up. Sorry, Sixers fans.

This all leads up to Ben Simmons now penciled in as the new face of the Sixers—at point guard.

Simmons's skill set is perfect for today's NBA big man. He can run the floor and is a tremendous passer and finisher. He's best used as a 4, so why on earth are you pushing him to be a 1?

Why? Because Bryan Colangelo screwed up. He didn't land a legit point guard in the draft or free agency.

Why specifically do I have an issue with this? Actually I have an Ish with it. More specifically, Ish Smith.

Ish is an NBA journeyman, but was dealt last season to the Sixers. Ish instantly became a daily fantasy stud and huge game-changer for the Sixers down the stretch. He organized the flow of their offense, held players accountable, and was overall the floor general the team had been lacking for several years. But he wasn't retained, and really there's no excuse.

Ish signed a deal with Detroit for $6 million per year, a figure Philly could and should have easily matched. First, the Sixers are still one of several teams who may have difficulty actually hitting their salary cap floor. Second, they spent $9 million a year on Jerryd Bayless.

Even outside of Ish, Philly missed plenty of chances to land a quality young point guard who could lead this team.

In their desperation to move big man Jahlil Okafor, they missed out on a potential move to swap him for Ricky Rubio or at least send him for mid-to-late first round Boston picks (16 and 23) to land a quality rookie point guard. Patrick Beverley and Trey Burke were also to be rumored available. The Washington Wizards got Burke…for a 2021 second round pick!

In free agency, Philly missed on overpaying (which they had the resources to do) and at least make an attempt for Jordan Clarkson. They could have also outbid the competition for other point guards who went for cheap, like Langston Galloway and Seth Curry.

Which all leads us to today—an extremely unbalanced roster and a risk to threaten the development of their savior, Simmons, by playing him out of position.

Sixers fans shouldn't fret just yet though. Bryan Colangelo still has time to swing a deal. Guys like Rubio and Beverley can still be had for potentially middling assets and cap fodder. There are also still some free agent holdouts like veteran Jarrett Jack who can at least help guide this young team.

The answer at 1 just doesn't need to be Ben Simmons. He's the team's one true jewel and should be treasured as such. Don't toy with him or perform Frankenstein-like tests. Please just have him do what he's meant to do—lead the team at the 4 slot and transform that position for the NBA, while simultaneously changing the trajectory in Philly. Just acquire a point guard, Bryan. Any point guard. Sam Hinkie left you all the tools and instructions. Just read the easily assigned steps and build this team appropriately.

Being lazy about it and just throwing Simmons at point guard—so that you don't have to do the hard work of sifting through deals for Okafor and others to land a PG—is just BS. Sixers fans deserve better.

After Thunder struck by Durant departure, what should they do with Westbrook?

westbrookYou’re Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti. Kevin Durant just bolted for the Golden State Warriors. You lost a superstar for nothing. Ouch. But unlike Thunder fans, you don’t have the luxury of time to mourn Durant’s decision. Burning his jersey won’t cut it—you need to think ahead. So what does Durant’s move mean for your chances to retain your other superstar, Russell Westbrook? That’s the natural and anxiety-provoking question for a Thunder executive right now. 

Westbrook becomes a free agent in the 2017 offseason, meaning the Thunder face the potential catastrophe of losing their second franchise cornerstone in as many years. Durant wound, meet the Westbrook salt. Losing the elite point guard for nothing to a major market like Los Angeles or New York is a real and frightening possibility for this small market team. So do the Thunder cut their losses and deal Westbrook now for some assets, launching the rebuilding process immediately? Do they wait until the next NBA trade deadline to reassess the post-Durant era? Or do they roll the dice again next offseason, hoping (and praying) that they can sell Westbrook on being their undisputed franchise player in the long run?

Given the presumably slim chances of attracting another superstar to Oklahoma City through free agency, the team’s first question should be: Even if we can retain Westbrook a year from now, can we build a contender with him as our only superstar? As it turns out, the Thunder have more to work with here than pure speculation. 

In 2014-15, an injured Durant missed two-thirds of the season, giving Westbrook the keys to the team. The result was a statistical explosion for the already prolific guard, who averaged 28.1 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game. Westbrook still stuffed the stat sheet with Durant returning this past season—23.5 points, 10.4 assists, and 7.8 rebounds nightly—but it’s clear that his scoring would go up in a post-Durant era. 

Yet as far as the team goes, Oklahoma City finished the 2014-15 campaign with a 45-37 record, and more importantly, they missed the playoffs with Durant largely in street clothes and Westbrook as their alpha dog. If they want a larger sample size, they can try letting Westbrook fly solo again for half a season before the trade deadline, but it won’t be enough to compete with elite Western Conference teams like the Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, or even the Los Angeles Clippers. And the long-term goal is to contend for a championship, not for the 4th seed in the playoffs, right? With this in mind, the Thunder should deal Westbrook for multiple assets and rebuild. Presti has proven adept at building through the draft: witness his successful selections of Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka. Only one of the four is left in Oklahoma City. It’s time to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Then the question for Presti becomes, when do you trade Westbrook? Well, it’s hard to argue that Westbrook’s value will get any higher than it is right now. We’ve seen his stats and impact with Durant, and we’ve also seen what he can do (and what his team can do) without Durant. He’s a top 5 player in this league. Why wait and risk a potential deterioration in his value, either through injury or individual/team struggles on the court without Durant? The Thunder will get a better deal now than they would at the February 2017 trade deadline. At the deadline, trade partners would perceive them as more desperate because Westbrook’s impending free agency departure would be that much closer. If the Thunder decide to go ahead with a deal, the right package can’t conceivably bring back a star of Westbrook’s caliber, but it can still include an enticing mix of players and draft picks. The right trade partner, meanwhile, needs to have either the assurance of re-signing Westbrook in free agency, or less likely, enough incentive to rent him for half a season even without an assurance of keeping him long-term. 

So who might be those potential trade partners for the Thunder? That’s a topic for another day and another column…stay tuned.

Losing Wade may be a blessing in disguise for the Heat

wadeAfter hearing the news that Dwyane Wade decided to leave the Miami Heat, Pat Riley reportedly texted reporters that he was "so sad." That's verbatim. He may have used a lot more of the letter "D" in his text, but Riley's decision to not increase his contract offer to Wade may be an "A."

Wade will be a Hall of Famer. He is probably the best player in Heat history and is coming off a fantastic and healthy-ish season despite his age. So, why my optimism about Miami's move?

Miami can develop some youth

Losing Wade means more minutes for promising second-year wing Josh Richardson at the 2 and more importantly, more touches for Justise Winslow at the 3. Development requires both minutes and possessions, and now both wings—and even big man Hassan Whiteside—may acquire more possessions as a result.

Don't forget about Dragic

It all seemed relatively hopeless for Miami when Chris Bosh went down to injury last season, but we all forgot about the Dragon. Goran Dragic picked up more possessions in Bosh's absence and was potentially the Heat's most lethal offensive player in the playoffs.

The move forces Miami to get younger

This is something the Heat should've considered more swiftly in a post-LeBron world. If they had retained Wade, they would have at best been in the same position this coming season as they were last season—out in the second round of the playoffs. Yes, that's at best-case scenario. Realistically, after losing Joe Johnson to free agency and with Bosh possibly out for an unforeseen amount of time, they likely would have been a low playoff seed. Remember, seeds 3 through 6 in the East this past season all had the same regular season record (48-34); the Heat won the tiebreakers to get the 3 seed, but had the same record as the 6 seed (Charlotte).

Getting younger is the biggest reason why having Wade bolt is a blessing. Whiteside led the Heat in wins produced and was thankfully retained this offseason. Meanwhile, Winslow could be an Andre Iguodala clone in Miami. The team really needs to just get younger, add a piece who can help improve everyone's development, and—say it with me Sam Hinkie—"build through the draft."

Dragic is probably someone they should look to move more immediately. One idea is to send him to Minnesota for Ricky Rubio. After drafting Kris Dunn, Rubio seems to be expendable for the Timberwolves, and Dragic would be an incredible 6th man for that team. Wolves Coach Tom Thibodeau is looking to make a playoff run this season.

Another idea is sending Dragic to Sacramento in hopes of coaxing the Kings to move a future pick (the 2017 draft should be promising); Ben McLemore; and troubled, but solid point guard Darren Collison.

As it stands, though, Miami is in fine shape. Players will still like the South Beach appeal in free agency. The Heat could net a top-10 pick in the next draft and still have a top-2 center in the league on a reasonable contract. 

Right now, they just need to send out feelers for Dragic, build the offense around Winslow, and hope Bosh recovers from his blood clots. Not to throw shade on Wade, but were the Heat really going to even make it out of the first round with him? Be thankful Heat fans, there's nothing worse than riding the proverbial NBA treadmill, which you would have only continued to do with Wade. Riley shouldn't be sad—he should be optimistic. Wade just did South Beach a massive favor.

Edited by Jacob Kamaras

With Dwyane Wade in tow, how can we get Bullish about Chicago?

FlickrThe homecoming tour continues in the NBA, and now it’s Dwyane Wade’s turn. But this homecoming has a different feel than the others.

Dwyane Wade Returns Home to Chicago

When returning to Cleveland, LeBron James was essentially able to dictate the remaining Cavaliers’ moves and quickly built a team that could more or less fit around him. Kudos to GM David Griffin for quickly realizing that Dion Waiters was a horrid fit and getting some floor spacing in return.

But Wade comes to the Chicago Bulls with far less control—and steps into a situation that seems like a horrible fit.

Bulls' Backcourt Spacing Issues

The trio of Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Butler just seems awkward. Where is the spacing? More questions arise regarding Coach Fred Hoiberg’s style of play and if he can make it work with this bunch.

The real problem is that NBA society forces us to believe all three of these perimeter slashing-oriented talents need to start and play exclusively together. That really doesn’t need to be the case.

Bulls' Rotation Minutes

All three could still get starter’s minutes, and Hoiberg can scatter the rotation to ensure proper spacing. For example, starting Wade alongside say Doug McDermott, with Nikola Mirotic at the 4, could mean nice spacing for that unit. Meanwhile, Butler becomes a superb 6th man who still plays more than 30 minutes per game and plays more with Jerian Grant.

Too bad for NBA society. That would never happen, because all three—Wade, Rondo, Butler—would see not starting as an insult. With all three then entrenched in the first unit, you now make Mirotic extremely important at the 4, but you still need more spacing pretty much everywhere.

Potential Trades

The Bulls could also explore minor deals to improve spacing. Dealing Robin Lopez and a future 2nd-round pick to Charlotte for Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lamb could work. The move would give you Hawes, an underrated talented high-post passer and shooter, as your 5. Meanwhile, Lamb provides good spacing to replace Mike Dunleavy Jr., who Chicago just traded to Cleveland to clear cap space for Wade. In Lopez, Charlotte would add a better interior defensive presence and replace some of what they lost in post play through Al Jefferson’s departure in free agency.

The "Big Three" Trade Value

The bigger question is, do you eventually move anyone from your awkward new “big three?” Rondo just signed and can’t be dealt until mid-December. His market value has already diminished, and after the Bulls would essentially show their hand, there’s no way he gets mediocre value in the trade market.

Moving Butler for more spacing is possible—maybe deal him to Boston in exchange for Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley, and a future Brooklyn Nets first-round pick. Still, wasn’t the whole point here to pair Wade and Butler? Also, sorry to break it to Dwayne, but there should be no question who’s team this is.

Yes, the Bulls need to at least keep Butler and Wade together, if for no other reason than to be bigger free agency players next offseason. At the same time, they’d like to ensure that they get to at least the second round of the playoffs this season. In the end, the best way to do so is by combining the first two ideas—making a minor move using Lopez and possibly Jerian Grant to get more spacing at the 5, AND convincing one of the “big three” to be a super 6th man.

Trade Rondo Already?

In the end, that candidate kind of needs to be Rondo. Let’s face it—Wade, your new hometown hero, won’t be willing to come off the bench. You could start Grant at point guard or try to acquire a spacing 1, and if somehow supplemented with a spacing 5, that suddenly becomes a sensible first unit. Meanwhile, Rondo could dominate the second unit, which could also include McDermott and Bobby Portis. The Bulls could maybe add old friend Marcus Thornton and roll with a nice second unit that could help them get a top 4 seed in the East. Of course, in the end, it comes back to getting a spacing 5—and the market is kind of bare. Besides Hawes, what other spacing 5 would even theoretically be available? Meyers Leonard? Enes Kanter? Not even.

The Milwaukee Bucks recently learned the lesson of not having enough spacing, and they added some much-needed help with stretch 4 Mirza Teletovic. Chicago must adjust fast—or else they quickly become the basket case story of this NBA season.

Edited by Jacob Kamaras

Why the Knicks’ Big Trade Isn’t So Rose-y

rose fixWith most of the dust now settled in NBA free agency, it’s probably as good of a time as any to look back at a trade that went down just weeks ago, but seems like months ago—Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant.

First off, there are a number of reasons to understand the Knicks’ point of view—plenty of pundits are articulating those arguments. They’re calling it a “low risk, high reward” move. Here’s why they’re wrong.

Derrick Rose's perceived upside

While Rose averaged more than 25 points per game during his 2010-11 MVP season and led the Bulls to the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, he was actually in perfect position to be successful. Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls’ coach that year, had a quasi-Philadelphia 76ers approach (during the Allen Iverson era), with Rose anchoring a lineup featuring strong defensive players like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Ronnie Brewer. The entire unit was set up for Rose to dominate the offense, or more specifically, put up numbers. The bigger question to really ask is: How productive was Rose that year? The answer is that while he was productive, he wasn't even in the top 5 for his position in wins produced, trailing Kyle Lowry in that category.

The odds of Rose replicating anything near that overrated season

Pundits will say that playing with Jimmy Butler, another ball-dominant wing, hurt Rose’s productivity in recent years. This is true. Butler and Rose were somewhat counter-productive and redundant as ball-dominant perimeter players. But how exactly will that be different for Rose when he plays with Carmelo Anthony in New York?

The better question is: How will that not be worse? Melo has had a consistently high usage rate and isn't used to playing off the ball. Meanwhile, from Rose’s diminished play with Butler, we’ve already seen how subpar he can be in an off-the-ball role.

He has an expiring contract

Rose’s $21.3 million salary comes off the books after this season. Maybe the Knicks use the cap space to attract Russell Westbrook, who’s much more likely to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in a post-Kevin Durant era? Perhaps. But still, you'd think Knicks executive Phil Jackson wouldn’t need to move promising young guard Jerian Grant just to unload Robin Lopez for an expiring contract. Lopez had a solid season in 2015-16, demonstrating solid defense and a post-up game—skills that would have warranted a decent contract for him this offseason, especially considering the contract that Timofey Mozgov (!) just received.

The Knicks needed a point guard badly

Agreed on this one. But there was a more publicly rumored idea that would have made far more sense than opting for the Rose “risk.”

Before we dissect the deal further, we need to think about the concept of opportunity cost. The notion of what else the Knicks could have done is usually overlooked. There was a point guard everyone thought would certainly land in New York, especially after the hiring of Jeff Hornacek as the Knicks’ new coach. His name is Rajon Rondo.

Players’ market value takes funny turns through their careers. Certain players are so frequently discussed as being underrated that they become overrated, and then they’re so often touted as overrated that they become…underrated again. Other players’ careers have the same script, but in reverse. Perhaps no players may have had more instances of going back and forth between being so overrated or underrated than Rondo and Rose.

The Rajon Rondo Enigma

Rondo was extremely underrated coming out of college—he was a late first-round pick. He really didn’t get onto the national scene until the 2008 Finals, when we saw flashes of where his future might go while his Boston Celtics won the title. Flash forward a few more seasons to the 2012 Conference Finals series against Miami. Rondo was dominant, and on a national stage outplayed LeBron James during many stretches. The league took notice, and he was officially rated—not over or under just yet.

Flash forward a few more seasons and Rondo starts pulling unbelievable box score stats on national TV, so much so that he receives a stigma of only playing well in front of a larger audience. Then Rondo gets injured, and at the time, the Celtics were muddling around a low playoff seed. There’s more talk of Rondo not getting along with the coaching staff, and he gets traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas was a turning point for Rondo. He would now officially become overrated. We know what happens next. Rondo and Coach Rick Carlisle don’t mesh, and he falls out of the rotation in the national spotlight of the playoffs. The stigma on him now is that he’s not worth the trouble, and that his lack of shooting can really hamper a team.

Rondo gets a second chance in Sacramento, but unfortunately it’s overlooked. Without much national spotlight, Rondo has an incredible season with the Kings. He leads the league in assists and even shoots better than 36 percent from 3. That’s far better than Rose’s numbers from long distance…ever.

Yet Rondo is still perceived as overrated. Maybe people just discounted his play because it came with the Kings. Whatever it is, no one initially bites on signing Rondo, and he ends up signing with Chicago for two years at $15 million per season. Should the league’s leader in assists be paid at about the same level as Courtney Lee? Rondo is officially underrated.

Rose vs Rondo

He was also the alternative choice for New York. If you don’t trade for Rose, you’d sign Rondo. To be honest, he’s a heck of a lot better. Rose isn’t really a risk—you know what you’ll get. If healthy, he’s probably netting 14 points and 6 assists in 27 minutes per game. Solid numbers, but not enough to help New York rise past 38 wins.

With Rondo, the risk is smaller and the reward is far greater. Rondo had a terrific season last year. He has shown that he plays well with ball-dominant players, and he fits well with Hornacek’s style.

I’m all for rolling the dice on a high risk-high reward trade, but this wasn’t it for the Knicks. It was low risk, low reward. Phil didn’t even need to be so clever about it. The Rondo option was right in front of his face.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones not done.

Edited by Jacob Kamaras

Pod 34: NBA News Roundup April 8, 2016


Sam Hinkie quits the 76ers, which is something we all saw coming. I talk about Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, and why they have such an easy job ahead of them, as well as measuring how successful they can be. Kevin Garnett is coming back for another season, which is crucial for Karl Anthony Towns' development. Also, Garnett probably wants another crack at the Playoffs. Kurt Rambis is incredibly being considered by Phil Jackson as a legitimate head coaching candidate for the Knicks next year. And finally, I talk about the Warriors, and whether they can crack 72 wins.